Alter(ed) Boys 1950s-60s)

Alter(ed) Boys 

Circumcision aside, after a Catholic boy reaches the age of twelve, he is qualified to become an alter boy. Actually there are no other qualifications than to simply be a boy and to have passed First Holy Communion followed by Confirmation; when paradoxically enough, he officially becomes a man. Catholic girls, on the other hand are told to abstain from sex, become a servile Nun or if getting knocked up, to segue with it, raise the baby and then procreate until both their uterus and bladder prolapses This then becomes the preferred method of birth control as the husband can no longer successfully mate with inside-out genitals and then defaults to using his hands or his mistress.

When I grew up, no one even considered the possibility that a girl might ever even want to be an Alter Boy. It was simply another aspect of the male orientation, domination and control of Catholic hierarchy, which to this day continues to delight in demeaning and degrading women.

My three closest friends, Timmy, Eddy and Billy, lived in or near my neighborhood.

I was closest to Timmy whose middle name was Ignatius. Not so much to be remembered after the Patron Saint of Retreats, but only so that his initials would spell T.I.M., was something his parents pointed out to everyone they introduced him to. This usually happened in a split second after the introduction was made.

  • He’s Timothy Ignatious M—-. And that’s why we always call him TIM.
  • Oh, that is just so adorably precious. So where is the wet bar?

TIM came from a devout Irish Catholic family, but his parents, Ned and Eileen, did not get along very well, such that after years of contentious dissention, and deciding to divorce, they then proceeded to ask the Church for an annulment. However in the Catholic Church there is no such thing as divorce, so by default, their annulment request was denied.

For a Catholic, marriage can only be annulled for such extremely ridiculous reasons as non-consummation meaning that having sex with someone only once becomes tantamount to a life sentence. This would only end as a “He said, She said” no-contest argument. Katherine of Aragon used this feint when Henry VIII tried to divorce her, claiming that she never had sex with his dead brother; whom she married first. The case dragged on for decades.

Non-consummation is even more difficult to prove, especially if you happen to have one or more children, and does not hold much defense even if you never had sex with your bride and the father happens to be the milk-man. This is because the faith subscribes to only one holy solitary possible Virgin birth scenario; that will never be yours. The Pope will never hear the case; until and unless the Church ever comes to believe in the validity of DNA; the same Church that finally decided in the 1980s that Galileo was in fact correct in stating that planets did indeed, orbit the sun.

Drunkenness, beatings, verbal abuse, and infidelity do not count. Church doctrine basically states that if you come to hate your spouse, it is simply too bad, you should just suck it up and try to live with it, or to counsel your way through it, or somehow learn to ignore it. It becomes part of the many personal crosses one is required to bear as he or she slogs through the remainder of his or her tortured life. I firmly believe this to be the root cause for men taking up golf, and women taking up Mah-Jongg, knitting circles or playing Bridge.

Therefore, Timmy’s parents, having reached a point of such extreme interpersonal vituperation, decided that a separation was better than suffering the eternal damnation of the hell on earth: being forced to live forever with someone, who at one time in life you had passionately loved, just happened to breed with, but now who you equally dispassionately hate.

Because of financial constraints they decided to live in the same house, with him occupying the basement, her living upstairs, and the middle of the house becoming the demilitarized zone. They then communicated with each other non-verbally by writing day-to-day notes on a chalkboard in the kitchen. For example, when Eileen’s dog pooped in Ned’s downstairs den and he expected her to clean it up, he wrote a note, which said: “Dog shit in basement.” She came back later in the day, did a partial erasure and rewrote the note to say: “Shit-head in basement.”

It did not help matters that they both drank excessively. Seeing them occasionally stumble around the house screaming at each other became my first exposure to alcohol mediated domestic abuse.

Timmy was a second child who had a much older brother whom I met only once or twice because he had permanently moved out of the house when he had enlisted in the military. In fact the very first time I heard the word “Vietnam” was from Timmy. In 1962 he told me that his brother was a helicopter pilot in this far off Asian country, where we had a war going on. He said that he almost had his ass shot out from underneath him while on a flight mission, but then received some sort of medal for being wounded. The next day I had looked at map of the world to locate the place, thinking simultaneously how curious it was indeed that none of us in high school knew anything about it. I was in the tenth grade at the time and forgot about the whole thing, not thinking for a single moment that Vietnam was something that could possibly ever affect my life.

Timmy and I spent a lot of time together. He was one of those rare individuals who could excel at anything he tried without really working at it, which included such things as music and sports. Yet strangely enough he never participated in band or team athletics in high school. He taught himself to play the banjo simply because he liked its sound and could dribble a basketball as well as any contemporary point guard. But he was never discovered at high school as a talent as he never even tried out for the team. I don’t think he really cared, and beside that, the discipline of practice would have ruined the fun of it. Everything he did was for his own personal entertainment.

During high school however, one odd personality quirk emerged when he developed the bad habit of shoplifting. This soon to become obsession incubated the day he lifted cigarettes from the local Stationary Store, which we all then puffed out in the woods. The habit then escalated or germinated to pilfering bigger and better things from Macys Department Store. I think he simply considered it to be a challenge because he got so good at it, he never got caught. That made it into the proverbial positive feedback loop of “Risk versus Reward.”

Because I was the type of person who could never get away with anything, and would probably not only jinx him, but also end up being indicted as the major perpetrator, I eventually had to stop going with him on these forays. After the chewing gum incident when I was five years old, which then prompted a parental Christian Pulpit Fire and Brimstone Sermon, followed by the apology and subsequent payment to the storeowner, I never questioned nor ever again transgressed the Eighth Commandment.

Eddy lived down the street from me. He had an overprotective mother who was the type who made interminable excuses for him while blaming all the other children if there was ever any trouble he happened to be associated with. Even if Eddy was implicitly involved she never believed he could be culpable because someone else, of course, had made him do it.

Eddy’s friends were hardly ever allowed into his house where there was always a quiet pall over the place that was unsettling. The domicile was also too neat and too exceptionally clean; with nothing ever being out of the identical place it had ever been in the week, month or even the year before. His mother had plastic covered sofas to keep them from getting soiled, which was a paradox since no one ever came over to visit or to sit on them anyway.

Being obsessed with sex, Eddy talked about it incessantly, despite what little extent he knew or thought he knew about the subject. On the rare occasion we got into the house and had some privacy, his first action was to rummage through his older sister’s dresser drawers so that he could play with her underwear.

Another friend, Billy, lived across the street from Timmy. Billy was standoffish, enrolled in a Catholic school with a strange aloof personality that I could never seem to get close to. Despite the fact that he had an athletic build, he also had a beatific cherubic face, baby soft skin, and never seemed to be too interested in sports or girls.

In general, Eddy and Timmy never seemed to be interested at all in girls either, to the point that as we got older the subject of dating never seemed to come. They also never seemed to have any girlfriends.

Once when we were walking along the highway, Eddy and I found a pile of black and white photographs of a nude woman in various poses that someone had thrown out of a car window. They looked like home amateur photos, maybe discarded by a disaffected lover. After collecting them, we promptly started referring to them as our “naked lady pictures.” We wrapped them in cellophane, then with aluminum foil to keep them dry, and safely buried them in a secret spot in the woods. Then we would meet every day to dig them up for hours of ogling.

My mother thought something odd was going on relative to our suddenly intense interest in the woods across the street where she would watch us go from the living room bay-window. Her curiosity had been piqued by wanting to know why I needed aluminum foil for the woods and what was I going to do with it. The give away was the fact that I stammered over an inadequate answer. One day when curiosity got the better of her she raided our camp, found our photos, and in a fiery rage destroyed our treasure right on the spot by making us burn them in our campfire while she stood over us; up to and including the final ashes.

It was a sad day for sure when we had to roast our naked lady pictures, like they were no better than a few toasted marshmallows; thinking all the time that we should have put a few reserve photos in another secret spot.

Breasts and Buttocks 3

Shortly after this Eddy told Timmy and me that his father had decided to tell him the Facts of Life or as he said: “the-facks-a-life” and did we know what they were? We didn’t have a clue as to what he was talking about; leading him to behave as though it was some mysteriously deep secret he could lord over us. We then became so curious that we begged and cajoled him enough to the point of him, with smug belated arrogance, finally divulging the information.

He then proudly proceeded to tell us that babies are made when a man puts his penis in a woman’s asshole and then pisses inside her. At least we did not have to pay him a monetary bribe for this information and although I am not sure what Eddy’s father really said or may have done to him, or how Eddy interpreted the information that put this notion in his head, never the less after the deposition, Eddy immediately proposed that we should try it out on each other for practice. 

Something about the entire thing did not seem intuitively correct and although Timmy and Eddy and Billy did try it out in my basement bathroom, I opted only to watch what turned out to be something of an eye-opener. Then I told them they should probably use their own houses if they wanted to do it again, as I knew my mother’s psychic radar would probably discover the activity. I was terrified of the parental firestorm predicted by the inevitable discovery of homosexual buggery that would make those associated with the discovery of the naked lady pictures pale in comparison. So I invoked a prayer to St. Ignatius, and retreated.  

Shortly after this Eddy, Billy and Timmy became alter boys.

Out of a sense of duty and wanting to be with my friends, I went for the tryouts too, but embraced this tedious concept of ritualization with as little enthusiasm as the priest seemed to embrace me. The chemistry between us was not good at all, resulting in a gut feeling that he knew in the core of my soul, I was probably a non-believer.  

Among other things, I had stage fright anyway and would have been terrified at being on the Alter having to perform the sacred rituals. I also hated the idea of the regular Sunday obligation or worse, the possibility of having to serve at more than one boring mass each week. Thus I never lost sleep over missing the cut. Just as with the Cub Scouts, I did not care for the alter boys’ ironed rigid starchy robes, the conformity, or even their infused incense fragrances. It also still seemed curiously strange to me that Eddy, Timmy, and Billy actually reveled in putting them on and performing their roles on stage. 

When the priest let them in and kept me out, perhaps it was because he had also sensed that little something “extra special” about them that I had witnessed by their exploratory basement experiments. Or perhaps I had just missed that part of the final tryouts in the privacy of the Rectory. In retrospect this inference would have never even remotely crossed my mind as a possibility except for an occurrence that happened to me later in the course of my religious Catechetical “instruction.” 

After being excluded from the Alter club, we all then went on to High School. The three of them then spent more and more time together without me, the friendships eventually became strained, and we failed to maintain lines of communication, such that very gradually we all drifted apart.

 Different drum

You and I travel to the beat of a different drum.

Ah, can’t you see by the way I run

Every time you make eyes at me. 


(Different Drum: Michael Nesmith)



 Drums: © Mich Pouliot Drum Gear/Graphic by Jim Wright

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