I must have been staring at that page for a good ten minutes. It remained as blank as my mind, except for the few shards of information I was able to scratch out at the top: name, date, subject, school. There was nothing else to add. Or subtract. Or multiply. A mid-term test in algebra and I couldn’t answer a single damn question; in fact, didn’t know the first thing about it, and didn’t care. So, rather than sit and stare at it for another forty minutes, I walked to the front of the room, handed the empty page to Sister Ann Marie, and walked out into the hallways of Cardinal McCloskey High. It turned out to be a pivotal moment in my young, sin-soaked life.
No sooner had I closed the door than I heard a voice behind me, “Where do you think you’re going?”, and realized it was the one person I didn’t expect to run into: The Principal. “Come with me;”, he said. “I’m going out to mail some letters.” Father Turner, a stern man given to few words, was utterly silent as we walked past the Governor’s mansion, home of Nelson Rockefeller, and down the hill to the mailbox on the corner. We then walked back up the hill in the deepening silence, and upon reaching the stairs, he turned to me and said, “Go empty your locker, and don’t come back here again.”, an eerie echo of Jesus’ words to the woman caught in adultery, “Go, and sin no more.”, except for the complete absence of Christ’s love. For the first time in recent memory, I actually obeyed.
My mother, poor soul, had just gotten me back into school three days earlier after a scandalous event the weekend before. A friend and I had showed up at the dance on Saturday night with a bottle of bourbon, and before you could say Shake it, baby, Shake it!, had gotten pretty toasted. One of us (I swear to God I don’t know who to this day) got the brilliant idea to slash Father Gillespie’s tires, for some odd reason; perhaps to impress the girls. Being the only ones on the gym floor who could barely stand up (let alone dance), however, proved to be a dead giveaway, and the Albany police had to chauffeur me home, again.
Now, why had I become such a problem? Perhaps it was because Father Turner had not long before turned a deaf ear to Mom’s pleas for mercy, after informing her that she had been excommunicated on the grounds of divorce. It seemed to me that God Himself had deserted us in our hour of greatest need, yet I was expected to respect and obey His minions without question. This was more than any self-respecting angry young man should have to put up with; they would have to put me on the rack first. Fortunately, I escaped before they got around to it; I was accepted at the only school that would take me: Philip Schuyler High School, the end of the line for many, an unapologetically pagan school which, if I recall correctly, was ranked just above Sing Sing, and located in what would someday be known as the Inner City. My one consolation was that I would now be able to wear jeans to school. Rock with me, baby; my official term in office as a Juvenile Delinquent had just begun.
To be continued…..