Drew Hayden Taylor

Drew Hayden Taylor
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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A DEGREE HERE OR THERE by Ted Fryia

Prepare to laugh as Ted Fryia takes us back to our school days - or were your school days ever like this?

A Novel Excerpt From
A DEGREE HERE OR THERE
By Ted Fryia

Even though we lived in Northern Ontario, my father loved baseball more than hockey. He loved it so much that in 1955 – the year I was born – he convinced my mother they should name me Berra, after his favourite player. Then growing up, my father taught me to get down when fielding grounders, to hold the bat off my shoulder while at the plate, use two hands when catching and to always keep my eye on the ball. But what he didn’t teach me was anything about sex. My parents left that to the school. And if it wasn’t a confusing enough, our school’s idea of sex education was to pass it off to the church.

McPhee cut us like cattle; boys in one room, girls in another. Then he left. No one knew who was with the girls, but Father Rochetta was the messenger sent to the eighth grade boys at Holy Trinity. It was hard to believe that a priest could know much about sex, even after the story of another priest on the far side of town, rumoured to be “partaking of too much wine and women”. And there wasn’t much chance of that happening with Rochetta. For one thing, he was older than my father. For another, he was short and kind of pudgy with a thin black strip of hair running around his otherwise cue-ball head. And though he didn’t always wear his collar when he visited our class, this day he did.

Father Rochetta began by folding his hands over his distended belly where the buttons strained to break loose. The top of his head and his face were turning red. “Sex – that’s what I’m here to talk to you boys about today. Sex is something that can be good – if you’re married,” he quickly added. Then raising his eyes, he stared over our heads. “It is a gift from God, to be shared between a man and wife.”

Behind me, Gerry Maki leaned forward and whispered, “So what’s he know about it?”

Rochetta stopped. “A question? Good.”

Gerry sat back. “No Father.”

“Does anybody have a question?”

If Rochetta had known anything about thirteen and fourteen year old boys at the time, he could have predicted we weren’t going give ourselves away on this one. He waited then gave up. “Even people who are not married, from time to time have an urge for sex,” he finally said. “It’s animal instinct.”

When I raised my hand, Rochetta looked relieved. “Do priests have urges?” I asked. The snickering that followed wasn’t what I was going for, but I was proud to take the credit.

Rochetta held his hand up like a cop stopping traffic. “No-no – that’s a good question, Berra. A priest is a man, and all men have urges.”

From the back of the room, John LaRocque asked, “Then that’s a – yes?”

“Yes,” Rochetta said without providing any details. “Any more questions?” Getting none, he went on. “What’s most important is what one does with these urges.”

John’s hand shot up. “Father, what do you do with those urges?”

A lot more snickering this time.

“Well, that’s a very personal question. It’s John, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Father.”

“What a person does with his own urge is between him and God. But what I can say is you must control them. And prayer is always our best tool when fighting temptation.”

Another hand waved in the air and Nicky Carbone asked before Rochetta could acknowledge him. “But what if prayer doesn’t work?”

“I know it’s hard, boys –”

Oh how we howled.

“Now boys, let’s be mature about this. Boys – boys,” Rochetta pleaded. When we were finally quiet, he lowered his voice. “To be honest, there are times myself when the urge is so strong, I feel as if I – like I must” – then he stopped himself. Just in time.

From behind it sounded like Gerry was chocking, until he slapped his desk and began cackling like a crazy person. I tried to hold back, but the snickers around the room were gathering momentum. Within seconds our laughter was full-throttle.

McPhee barged through the door. The room went silent. “Is everything okay here, Father?” he asked.

Rochetta’s face and head were plum-coloured. “Thank you, Mr. McPhee, we’re doing fine. And the boys are asking good questions.”

McPhee’s eyebrows bunched together and he scanned the room. “Okay. Good. How long do you expect to be, Father?”

“Another fifteen or twenty minutes.”

When the door closed, Rochetta looked at us again. “The point I was trying to make is, no matter how strong the urge, you don’t have to act on it. Prayer always helps.”

John LaRocque’s hand went up again. “Father, what about – masturbation?”

A few chuckles slipped, but they died quickly. I looked around the classroom and everyone, even Rochetta, looked frozen in place.

Eventually the priest cleared his throat, “Ah-humm – yes. I know that this is a popular activity among young men, but it is a temptation you must not give in to. Though it – masturbation – is done in private, the Lord is watching.”

That was about all I could take. The image in my head of this wrinkled and wise looking man, white hair falling to his shoulders and peeping from behind a cloud on a bunch of teenage boys “giving in to temptation”, tore the laughter out of me. And I wasn’t the only one. Gerry sounded like he was choking again, until he snorted then went into hysterics. Dave Ellis brayed like a mule when he laughed and just about fell out of his desk he chugged so hard. Jimmy Caputo, who sat in front of me, turned around with tears rolling down his inflated cheeks and slapped the top of my desk. I still don’t know why McPhee didn’t hear this hysterical rabble’s whooping, pounding of desktops

“Now boys – boys. Enough!” Rochetta boomed.

Most of us were already beyond Rochetta’s reach when John LaRocque yelled out, “God must be some kind of pervert if he likes watching guys masturbate.”

Rochetta took a step down the isle then stopped. His face twitched. “John! John – go stand outside the door.”

“Does God have those urges?” John yelled over another wave of laughter.

The priest looked like a black thunderhead as he stormed down the isle, grabbed John’s shirt at the shoulder and yanked. John’s desk toppled to the floor and the priest dragged him towards the door. When Father gripped the door knob his knuckles turned white. He twisted the handle then threw the door open, but it banged and bounced off the wall then slammed shut again. With a fistful of John’s shirt in one hand the priest took hold of the door knob with the other, looked up and closed his eyes for a moment. After taking a deep breath he looked straight ahead and opened the door slowly. Then, letting go of John, Rochetta pointed into the hall and said in a controlled but wobbly voice, “Stand out there – until I come to get you.”

John pushed up from the floor then stepped out the door as Rochetta turned back to us. Behind the priest, John hung his tongue out the side of his mouth, rolled his eyes and began to pantomime that he was jerking off. The priest didn’t’ even look back; with an artful flick of his short fat fingers the door swung closed and cut short John’s performance. Pleased with himself, Father Rochetta strode to the front of the room, shoulders back and chin tilted upward, where he commenced with his talk.

The rest of what he had to say was about how to avoid temptation through prayer. He lost me with that stuff. I was hoping for something a little different; I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hoping for something about the parts – the girl parts. Without the interesting bits my mind wandered. And since we were told in catechism class, “only Catholics go to heaven”, I wondered what kind of talk the public school kids got. Surely, if they weren’t going to get in anyway, no Protestant was ever going to bother with fighting temptation.

1 comment:

  1. Would love to see the film adaptation some day!
    -Ethan Powley

    ReplyDelete