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

Rituals Gone Wrong

Rituals Gone Wrong

People thrive on rituals. Rituals serve as reminders of cultural roots, religious ideologies and anniversaries that mark important milestones or events. On a more mundane level they may serve to mark any reasonable excuse to get together for a party. Super Bowl Sunday is one of my favorites.

Ritualistic behavior is really nothing more than a repetitive act that either ensures the ability of a person or thing to maintain contact and equilibrium with its environment or to eat excessively and get drunk. On a social level, rituals ensure cultural bonding, a reaffirmation of life cycles; while in the extreme or at the more deviant level, they ensure a reaffirmation of perverse existence.

For example, my office manager’s husband Fred thinks that every gathering with his friends becomes a first event that should be celebrated yearly, such as the “Annual First Time We Ever Got Together and Ate Chinese Food.” He also likes to drive around playing the same Flying Burrito Brothers or Steve Goodman albums over and over again; a habit that makes his wife have to restrain herself from reaching over to strangle him. Repeatedly playing ones favorite tunes, as many of us are prone to do, is an example of a rather benign form of ritualistic behavior that makes us happy and soothes our nerves; whereas for example an Aztec ceremonial ritualistic evisceration, sexually addictive masturbation or the acts of a serial killer are not.

Some ritualistic behaviors such as repetitive hand washing however fall into the category of the mild psychosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Ritualistic gatherings such as those centered on a holiday define our common roots, bringing us all together to allow or to facilitate both celebrating and reminiscing about the good old days or to anticipate potentially better times ahead. Christmas, Hanukkah and New Years fall into these categories.

In the Catholic Church as well as in the Jewish faith, rituals not only celebrate holidays and Holy days but also center on rites of passage.

Catholics have Baptism, a ritual that abolishes Original Sin. They also have Confirmation, a ritual that inducts a young man, as a Private First Class, into the army of Christ.

In the Jewish faith there is the Bris milah or circumcision, a ritual that affirms Abraham’s covenant with God; then later on the Bar or Botz mitzvah, a ritual that signifies the rite of passage of boys or girls crossing from childhood to adulthood.

Of all the religious rituals however, circumcision seems to be the one most shrouded in mystery and the one least associated with common sense.

Even if one subscribes to the biblical proscription that it is mandatory to identify one as being a certified Jew, something that the Nazis used to their advantage in consigning people to death, this does not explain why the Islamic faiths as well as Eastern Orthodox and Coptic faiths also subscribe to this ritual; or even why the procedure is drawn on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs.

This is especially so since there is no clear-cut medical evidence as to whether there is any benefit to the procedure except possibly for the purpose of allowing better personal hygiene, or as far as I know making absolutely no difference in the sex life of males who walk around with or without their putz intact.

The only possible reason would be eliminating the possibility of unwanted odiferous smegma ruining the potential for a good blow job.

I happen to be circumcised, for no apparent reason other than the fact that my mother was told by some Pediatrician that it was a good idea.

However the worst example of pig-headed determination to subscribe to blind ritual happened to my next-door neighbor’s daughter.

She was a Christian of German descent who had married a Jewish man she described as not only being from California but who she also referred to as being a “California Jew.” This is roughly translated into meaning that either he or his family, or both, virtually did not practice their faith at all and is equivalent to being known as a “Once a year Catholic” on Easter or Christmas.

However, when she had her first son, he insisted on having the child circumcised, which was done by a Pediatrician.But when the second son was born he went one step further by insisting that the procedure be done in the customary manner of the faith by a mohel (pronounced moyel).

A mohel is a person specifically trained to do circumcisions in a religious ceremony eight days after birth, in which some unlucky close family friend gets to hold the baby while this person cuts off the foreskin. Simultaneously the baby adopts the name of some other totally impersonal ancient dead ancestor.

In a more gruesome form of the ceremony known as a metzitzah, the mohel cuts of the foreskin after which he sucks the blood off the end of the incision. This practice was known to occasionally transmit herpes to the baby and so was largely discontinued as being an unhealthy; medieval, and outdated practice.

When you grow up how would you like to have to tell any of your potential girlfriends that story?

  • I got genital herpes from the mohel when I was eight days old and he sucked my dick.
  • Right. Pigs can fly too. Then you’ll probably tell me we need to fuck because tomorrow you’re being sent to Viet-Nam and you might die.

Like I said, brushing a little holy water on the baby’s head is quicker, simpler, neater and cleaner.

In any case, my friend’s husband insisted that the person to do the job was the “King Mohel” of Washington D.C., the mohel of all the mohels.

The only problem was that this person, who was in his eighties, had a senile hand tremor that resulted in him slicing off part of the poor kid’s penis. This accident resulted in an injury to the urethra that caused the urinary stream to blast out sideways and then required about five cosmetic repairs. The aftermath caused enormous physical pain along with emotional difficulties for the victim over his first decade of his life. It also almost resulted in a divorce as his mother then had her own cross of guilt to bear over letting this happen in the first place. She said:

  • The son of a bitch never even went to Temple and then he made me get this quack bastard mohel to do the job so he could push his own guilt aside, atone for his sins and bond with his stupid religious roots. I hate him. It makes me want to cut his dick off, too.

I told her I felt the same way about the new craze to let midwives deliver babies. I told her:

  • People forget that the reason infant and maternal mortality is so low is because we have doctors delivering babies. They also forget that the risk is still so high that these guys are at the top of the medical malpractice food chain both in litigation as well as premium costs.

It wasn’t really funny at all, but years later when I thought about it sarcastically, I could envision some tremulous old mohel in 500 B.C. bending over a baby, slicing off the poor kid’s entire penis and handing the baby back to his mother saying:

  • Congratulations. Now it’s a baby gohel.



Tools of the Trade

The Tools of the Trade

(Circumcision kit: Photo source: Wikipedia)