Sunday, July 17, 2011

No Specific Location

Parish day was an annual event at our high school. On this one afternoon set aside each year, the various Catholic parishes throughout the Bronx dispatched priests to speak with their teenage congregants who also attended Cardinal Spellman. As a graduate of St. John’s grammar school, and a parishioner of St. John’s Church (more or less), I assembled with my Kingsbridge peers.

In what was always advertised as an informal give-and-take with one of our very own men of the cloth, Father B assumed the honors during sophomore year. He was a hip clergyman who nobly endeavored to connect with skeptical youth like us—a good idea and certainly better than the condescending, scolding approach employed by his boss, Monsignor D.

When Father B first arrived at St. John’s in the early 1970s, it's fair to say that he got off on the wrong foot. At a faculty versus students’ basketball game, the new priest on the block removed his warm-up jacket and revealed a T-shirt that read, “Bitch…bitch…bitch.” Needless to say, this bit of public theater generated quite a fuss in the community. But it was such a groovy snapshot in time that Father B's colorful antics were tolerated. In fact, the old stodgy clergy of the past just didn’t jibe as well with the folk masses, female altar boys, and the "sign of peace" hand shaking that were becoming the rage. When my fifth-grade homeroom teacher, the benevolent Sister L, took up a collection to buy Father B a well-earned Christmas gift, she bought him a carton of his favorite smokes—from all of us.

At his Cardinal Spellman appearance—for reasons that now escape me—Father B, the Marlboro Man, wanted to know where each one of us hung. No, not how it hung, but where we hung out in the neighborhood.

“Where do you hang?” he asked, going up and down the rows of students.

I recall being the first one questioned—or very close to it—and felt the weight of the world thrust upon me.

“I don’t really hang out anywhere,” I said, embarrassed that I hadn’t come up with anything more profound.

“So, when you’re home…you’re pretty much home?” Father B countered.


It fast became apparent that my St. John’s alumni were similarly perplexed by this hanging interrogation. Soon after my response—honest, if nothing else—some kid named the street where he lived, Corlear, as his preferred hanging spot. Hey, why didn’t I think of that one! And once the remaining lemmings in the room realized this response was copacetic with Father B, out came all the street names on the neighborhood map: "Irwin,” “Naples Terrace,” “West 230th Street”….

Finally, Father B posed the same question, which he had asked at least a couple of dozen times, to a friend of mine.

"Where do you hang, Jim?” he queried.

“No specific location,” Jim replied to laughter and a few snickers from his schoolmates.

Most of his peers enjoyed this clever rejoinder to a question that had long since become a colossal bore and less than edifying. But there were a few detractors in the room, who didn’t appreciate what they considered a haughty answer to an inoffensive query from a well-intentioned priest. Oh, I don't know, but perhaps authority figures merit a wee bit of disrespect every now and again. Thank you, Jim.

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