Do I Look Like A Pigeon?

There’s a basic tenet of parental behavior to which many ascribe:  Whatever you don’t like, don’t understand, or frightens you about your child, you’ll try to ignore it, or threaten it, or eliminate it under the guise of childhood protection.

If you had known me as a child you would never describe me as: bashful, shy, inhibited, reserved, demure, or innocent.  Especially innocent!  I blame my lack of innocence on a creative incarceration complete with shackles, pillory, and thumbscrews (metaphorically speaking) as the adult-authority’s recommended protocol for youngsters that emigrate to the shores of their imaginations.  My crime?  Being entertained by my imagination’s liberty to dream of things or experiences which landed far beyond the limits of our lower-middle-class capabilities, and of which I insisted were possible despite our depressed economic status.  Not that I asked for things that we couldn’t afford.  I asked for things which required creativity or compromise or cunning.  I only asked for things which were possible but perplexing; things which, if I were taller or older or motorized I could procure.  But I was a short, plump, uncoordinated child that wrestled with an unbridled imagination and raw creativity which everyone described as teetering between adaptation (the positive, yet painful struggle of change: unyielding animosity between divorced parents, recent move to the south side) and abdication (an attempt to cope by disengaging himself from his misery by displacing reality with imagination).  I had just begun implementing a plan which might conquer both my hells (before/after move).  Using creativity and imagination I might be able to map my way free of their self-centered, ego-inflamed romantic ideals and out from under the shitty and selfish mess the adults-in-charge created, then forced down my gullet like corn down the throat of the holiday goose.

So authority figures convened to develop a strategy designed to lower the volume of my imagination and increase interest in my new-world order.  By discouraging escape and encouraging capitulation they hypothesized that I would slowly build a positive (and comfortable) reality without careening into fantasy, imagination, or creativity.  In other words, we’ve tested him and he ain’t no Einstein, scored dead-center 50th percentile, and, thank God, kind, dull, unambitious, and docile: he’s simply avoiding change by daydreaming.  So the adults broke their huddle and walked to the line of scrimmage; a defense full of adulthood, authority, corporal punishment, and varying degrees of coercion designed to obliterate the supply bridge between me and my creativity and imagination.  But I was on the offensive and understood that in a matter of seconds my pulverization would commence; I mustered some resistance, usually a subtle mockery of mumbled affirmations.

Their boundless resources, their freshly recruited therapists (secretly screened in the convent) hammered my resistance and during a nighttime raid caused a debilitating breach, a nightmare, which cast doubt on imaginations allegiance.  Creativity wasn’t strong enough to deflect their incessant whittling away at my corners, sanding down my resolve in order to spit me out at eighth grade graduation: a shining example of what to do with a square peg when the world offers only round holes.  The nuns, lay-people, and counselors believed that by distracting my distractions, by motivating and redirecting and sympathetic yet tyrannical concern and instruction, they could successfully extinguish what, at the time, was thought to be simple imagination.  And I would take my place among my fellow eighth grade graduates poised for the adventure of public middle-school, then high school, and finally be added to the third-shift at some manufacturing or assembly plant as one more blue-collar-assembly-line-lifer with low expectations and very little hope.  

Tragically, these nuns and educators were in pursuit of an example, a trophy, proof that plucking me from a sea of personal trauma and forcing me to face the reality to which I was born.

How nearsighted they were to think they eliminated my problem.  It was much worse than that.  They confirmed, even back then, that it was real and I wasn’t just imagining things.

Is My Left Index Finger A Carrot?

Prior to all this mental illness mumbo-jumbo, my hands Left and Right, fraternal twins with Right seconds older (Left, it is said, grabbed anything within reach to avoid birth).  They’ve developed a symbiotic relationship on the one hand, while on the other they’ve taken completely diverging paths and developed distinctly disparate identities.  As Left was once quoted as saying, “we’re not two of one thing; we’re one of two things.”  Which is an important distinction in their world, a world where two things are commonly referred to as “one thing:”  The oft pedestrian reference: A Pair.

The human body is classical in terms of design styles.  It is proportional, balanced, and harmonious.  Its design style highlights the importance of parity, especially object parts divisible by 2.  Parity is reduced in importance only by singularity.  However, singularity is an expression of a Prime Object.  Unlike Parity Objects which if divided by two would result in one (not one-half), Prime Objects cannot be divided which results in an increased degree of importance.  Further, for many Prime Objects, the statistical probability of locating a perfect replacement is less than one percent.  A few Prime Objects are impossible to replace thereby aggrandizing their importance and diminishing the importance of two Parity Objects.  It’s because of the human body’s classical design style and a common belief that a human body can exist with one-half of a pair of Parity Objects that Parity Objects often develop the kind of relationship that honors longevity, but also promotes independence.

Left and Right have been inseparable for as long as I can remember.  Left is the quiet, ostentatious one when it comes to pretentious accessories (watches, bracelets); but Left is also the bearer of an object of significant proportion: the wedding ring.  Meanwhile Right is clearly the winner when it comes to handedness and the Brain’s division of labor.  Right was the first to learn that 90% of humans prefer to use his side as the “heavy lifter.”  As such, it’s Right who reaches out for a handshake, gives a panhandler a quarter, hails a taxi, scolds a child, dials a phone number, beckons a suitor to approach.  Unless the activity requires both the left and right hands, for instance playing the piano, forming a snowball, applause, typing this post, Left will wander off by himself, and routinely ends up in a jacket or trouser pocket catching a cat nap.  Right couldn’t care less.  He sees himself as invaluable, impossible to live without, the go-to-guy; deputized to effectuate distinguished gestures including devotional, patriotic, insulting, and vulgar (the latter is used so often it hardly qualifies as “distinguished”).  As a matter of fact, Right’s not entirely sure if Left has the ability to execute the oft practiced and drilled Ambidextrous Transmutation which Right first discussed with Left the night immediately after first grade when Right snatched the yellow stick from Left and began to trace the alphabet.  Right said, “Now Left, you should pay attention too; I know your holding the paper, but you’ve got to practice in case. . .”  Left reached across to Right, alarmed, “In case of what?  What?”  Right patted the top of Left, “In case I get hurt, wrapped like a mummy; you need to be ready to jump in!” And Right made it his duty to train Left in skills like handwriting, key-turning, locker-combinations, can openers, hairbrush, toothbrush, razor, utensils, and the secret one, the never-discussed-one, the door-locked-under-cover-personal-exhaustive-and-bemoaning-ritual.  Almost every night for fifteen years; sometimes more than once; then later in life strangers appeared and Right simply followed orders.  Left has seen action in 3rd grade (broken wrist), 6th grade (broken arm), and 11th grade (dislocated elbow).  Right beamed with pride when Left took ahold of the reins. 

As of late however, Left has really taken a beating.  My new found interest in cooking and woodworking has led to a number of instances in which digits on my left hand can’t retreat fast enough and feel the razor-sharp edge of a chef’s knife (or bread knife, or lock-back knife, or 3/8″ wood chisel) slicing, stabbing or chopping.  And Right just keeps slicing in total abandon utterly unconscious of Brain’s danger alerts.  So Left wanted to try an experiment to gauge Right’s ability to distinguish Left’s forefinger from a carrot.  The picture above was taken a few moments ago.  We’ll keep you apprised of the outcome.

Back Then, Ignorance Was De Rigueur

At the end of the 60’s and carrying into the 70’s there still seemed a deep-rooted sentiment: if it’s none of your business, then keep your nose out of it.  Which seemed to work fine for most people.  Of course every neighborhood had its busybody, just as it had its grouchy-keep-off-my-grass-senior-citizen, and bubble-gum-snapping-younger-than-her-bosom-suggests-daughter-of-a-longshoreman.  But by-and-large, if it didn’t directly involve you then you were commanded to stay-out-of-it.  And woe be the kids with clumsy feet: too inattentive or naive to jump when they spot trouble; or those nearest the melee when it explodes, or the small-fry-wanna-be whose taunts often ignite newly produced testosterone because they all will be hauled to the principal’s office for punishment followed by the famous litany of idiotic parental rhetoric: “. . .well, if he jumped off. . .;” “If I’ve told you once. . .;” and the classic “I  could see those <insert surname  here> boys were trouble. . .”   But the message was always the same: mind your own business.

Now, that’s not to say there was a lack of dinner-table rumor-mongering, my mother usually updating us on the goings-on of the neighborhood.  But, if the rumor was rated PG-13 and above, we were given the briefest synopsis, censored beyond recognition, devoid of any example of debauchery, infidelity, or any despicable acts whether or not the “I’m-not-naming-names-neighbor-three-doors-down” was perpetrator or victim.  My mother’s talent for omission was legendary, but her dinner-table-abridging offered very little by way of a storyline, but witnessing her agility at avoiding incriminating details while maintaining a conversational tone was so entertaining that my older brother wanted to call the Watergate crew and offer them her secret of how-to skirt the truth and avoid prison for perjury.  He said he tried but was told they don’t take messages for inmates.

But even spreading gossip was considered a breach of social convention and was practiced with the highest degree of discretion.  I overheard my mother talking on the phone about Mrs. Bowers and her recent loose-lipped huddle at Kroger’s with Mrs. Hanson about boys, booze, broads and a bathtub: to Mrs. Bowers chagrin the broad and bathtub belonged to Mrs. Hanson.  Right there in aisle 5-A Mrs. Hanson’s strong upper lip began to quiver and like a mudslide, her conviction simply gave-way taking her sand-bagged courage with it and Mrs. Hanson dropped to the floor as if someone had cut her marionette strings.

Back then the message was loud and clear: keep your mouth shut! 

And I suppose it was that exact 1960’s deflection of responsibility, respect for authority, and absolute ignorance of any activity which happened outside the euphemistic “four walls” of our family (and home) that created a vacuum of moral accountability.  This social ignorance was the fertile ground from which victims sprouted already marinated in the tenets of civic propriety: keep your mouth shut and mind your own business.  Now add a new genus of Catholic leadership: an indubitable, irrefutable and influential priest whose intentions, if questioned, are defended rigorously by the diocesan hierarchy.  These two social renunciations: bewilderment on the part of the parents and blindness on the part of the Catholic Church created the perfect playground for sexual predators that mocked piety and disgraced through indignity and malice, the Christian image of the protector of children.

We had a predatory priest back in Catholic grade school.  As a pedophile he’d developed quite a reputation and a skillful set of traps which left little, if any scars, except those which appeared years later.  He developed a certain degree of notoriety: A staggering example of the decades-long failure of the Church’s treatment (reflection and counseling) resulting in reassignment or perhaps the estimated number of casualties he produced (across generations in one family).  His ecclesiastic devotion was a stark contrast to his budding reputation as “overly affectionate” or “physical with boys beyond acceptable behavior” so the Arch Diocese of Milwaukee continued to pry his paws away from parishioners at one church (akin to “running him out of town”).

He was hurried over to a safe house for an overhaul: counseling, hand-slapping, celibate reminders, penitence, forgiveness, and then off to some R & R (restoration & repair), placed back into the deck, reshuffled, and dealt to an ignorant congregation of affable and duteous parents who’d bred reverent and obedient children.  Some devote parishioners believed that the affection of a doting priest was reserved for the innocent of the innocents, were venerated by God and anointed (via the local messenger, i.e. priest) with an extra helping of divinity.  I remember hearing that some devoted parents would volunteer their children’s time to vocational pursuits i.e. ironing vestments, vacuuming sacristies, opening the weekly offering envelopes, in order to maintain proximity to the priest should a divine message be received.  But back then, back in 1969, that’s how Catholics behaved because they were taught that a priest was called by God to act as emissary here on earth; and the most important (mysterious, and grossly misunderstood) tenet of a priest’s appointment was his unconditional vow of celibacy (the state of being unmarried and, therefore, sexually abstinent).

And that presumption, that priest’s were not sexual, was the perfect degree of insulation these priest’s and their superiors needed to stave off accusations of impropriety brought to the diocese.  And here’s the revelation:  No matter how impassioned, no matter how unthinkable the alleged violations seemed, no matter that these abominations were reruns from previous parishes, the victim, a child, with nothing to gain (and so much to lose) were often suspect!  First by the parents, then the parish leaders, then when facing the priest in his rectory, and then, if pursued, again face-off with highly respected and very suspicious diocesan officials and the priest (whose interest and adorations became manipulative, threatening, painful episodes and were so outrageous and impossible to prove, that the only logical and least damaging conclusion anyone with any sense could draw:  the child is  exaggerating, misconstruing, or unintentionally and without malice positioned themselves near the priest and misunderstood their physical contact as egregious.

And frankly I don’t know which buckled first: The highly improbable assertion that a child repeatedly seduced a religious official vowed to celibacy or the unquestionable devotion of generations to the Catholic Church (the age-old collapse of a faith in God and a faith in the Godliness of men ordained by Him).  But what it took to shift the burden of proof from the victim (child) to the perpetrator (priest) was a departure from isolation and silence to community and conversation.  When adults decided that blind allegiance to any organization purely based on what that organization tells you to believe is, in and of itself, questionable, was when the fortified walls of some of the world’s oldest and most revered organizations began to weaken.

It’s not what we’re told by leaders (whether religious, political, corporate) that has the capacity to tear this world apart.  It’s what we believe that we’re told.  It’s not the children’s fault that the Catholic Church protected and permitted decades of sexual abuse.  It’s the adult’s fault (whether or not your the priest or the parent or the pope).  It’s an adult’s responsibility to question authority each and every time it violates freedom!

There isn’t one person on this planet that stands above repute.  Except, that is, perhaps the children.