In the fifth grade, I told Mrs. Worth to go to hell. It was the Christ the King fifth grade class picnic. I’d just smoked up a bunch of weed with Todd Aaron in the john at the Sunnyside Park swimming pool. It was the first time for me and a regular thing for Todd.
God, I admired that guy. Todd was mysterious. Dangerous. I saw him years later. His dad was leading him by the hand around the local shopping mall. Todd had on dark sunglasses that really contrasted with his fire-red hair. He didn’t respond when I walked up to him and said hey, amazed to see him once again. His dad looked embarrassed and said Todd wasn’t feeling well. Turns out the drug freak wound up on drugs all the time. Thorazine, mostly. I heard recently that he died years ago. I don’t know how, but given my history and his, I can imagine.
In any case, there was a riot on the brown-dirt baseball field. Mrs. Worth was a short lady with gray helmut-hair. She wore old-lady sparkly hornrims with trifocal lenses. She wasn’t a slouch. In the classroom she wielded the ruler like Sister Margaret Mary. She would stand for no breach of hierarchy or decorum.
At the picnic, Mrs. Worth made us play baseball. She had organized it and made us play it, boys against girls. She made us play by the rules. Besides us not having created our own game, we hated playing by official rules. Instead of baseball, what we wanted was to do nothing at all. We were Catholic kids on dope. We wanted to sit in the shade and take care of Catholic kid business–smoking cigarettes, telling stories of seeing girls’ boobs, and speculating on what was really in a woman’s pants.
We played about one inning. Then, Mrs. Worth told Sarah Billings she couldn’t skip bases just because she hit a double. We protested since we usually played “whoever can get the most across the plate regardless of how” baseball.
Mrs. Worth was taken aback. She lost control, just for a minute. That was enough. We were hellions on the loose. She wasn’t in a closed classroom. She was outside. This was our territory, and since Todd had gotten Joe, Eric, me, and about six other kids were stoned, we didn’t give one shit about Mrs. Worth’s discipline.
The park baseball diamond turned into a wild arena of running, chasing, and screaming. Baseball devolved into free-style tag. Worth was running in her knee-length polyester dress here and there, screeching and threatening and screeching some more.
A couple of other Toddstones were too high to care. We sat in the dugout and watched the madness unfold. The we saw our opportunity in the mayhem. Remembering the famed prison riot the year before, we started chanting “Attica. Attica. Attica.” At first, it was titillating. Then we started yelling at Mrs. Worth to go to hell. When it turned into a chant–“Go to hell. Go to hell.”–it became major venal, if not mortal, sin. It felt good. There was something to this sin thing I had never felt before. I started screaming “go to hell” at the top of my lungs.
My screams filtered through the chaos and I got busted. I was scared as shit. The picnic ended, we walked back to school, and Mrs. Worth marched me right into Monsignor Kearney’s office in the Christ the King Rectory.
This was an impressive pillar of man of the cloth. He was short and stocky. Starting with his head, he was one width from his oiled hair to his feet, emphasized by his constant wearing of a priest’s cassock, or his “monsignor lady’s dress,” as we like to call it.
That guy looked at me and I denied the whole thing. Top to bottom. I swore I didn’t remember telling Mrs. Worth anything of the sort. Actually, what I remembered was screaming with my eyes closed, opening them occasionally to see if Mrs. Worth was looking. On one of those unfortunate occasions, she was looking at me. I had “hell” in my mouth. I tasted electricity. I knew I was cooked.
As I look back, I realize how long it took me to get out from under Catholic school and the neurosis I created with it. Sure, they were awful people. Or maybe not. It doesn’t matter. I take the blame for my Catholic-induced insanity. I believed Monsignor Kearney and his line of crap. I believed the nuns, priests, and brothers. I believed they had access to some divinity not available to me.
I did it. I bought into the neurosis. I smoked the weed. I told Mrs. Worth to go to hell.
I just wish now that I would have told that bastard Monsignor Kearney that.