As I decline into a rapidly dwindling future, I find it more and more difficult to resist the lure of the past.
We all cherish our memories. This is as it should be.
We find trouble when we try to revive our memories because, if experience teaches us anything, it is that trying to relive past glories is invariably a one-way ticket to disappointment and a reduced stock of golden memories to comfort us in our dotage.
The first Rule Of Memory is: avoid school reunions. For 29 years I had assiduously observed this rule, only to be undone, in a weak moment, by an email from a loathsome slug called Joe, enquiring as to whether I would like to attend a 30-year school re-union.
I don’t know why I replied to his email, but as soon as I pressed ‘send’ I regretted it, only to subsequently discover that sometimes a tarnished golden memory can reveal a platinum hue.
I have few fond memories of my Christian Brothers College school days – unsurprising, considering that I was convinced at the time that the Christian Brothers at our Stalag were either former SS Sonderkommando NCOs living under assumed identities or ex-IRA hit-men specialising in knee-capping the children of Proddy-dog policemen.
To say the Brothers were brutal would be hyperbolic, but there is no denying that they ruled with a velvet tongue and an iron fist.
The fist was for you, if you committed a heinous crime such as breathing without permission. The velvet tongue was for your parents, if they dared to enquire why their son staggered home from school looking like he was on leave from the Eastern Front.
One of the brothers, a maths teacher who’s name, if memory serves, was Otto Schmidt, was an ace with a blackboard eraser. I’m not talking about the lightweight plastic jobs we have now. These were made of a hardwood with the consistency of steel.
Any boy that failed to adequately answer a question was instantly felled by a laser-guided eraser travelling at the speed of sound.
I always imagined that, after a hard day’s felling miscreants, Herr Schmidt spent his evenings in his cell polishing his Iron Cross and reminiscing about the good old days of hurling grenades into Russian bunkers in
When they couldn’t fell boys with erasers, the Brothers had a strap for dispensing justice. Each morning before class the Brothers would assemble at the armoury located in the school dungeon to be issued with a slab of leather about 18-inches long, an inch wide and three inches thick.
Brother Dom had his own strap. I think his mother gave it to him when he went off to Brother school. It had a carved ivory handle and a little leather strap to slip over your wrist – the better to hang on to it when it bounced off a recalcitrant youth’s backside. It was housed in an oak box, whence it was lovingly returned to when Brother Dom had finished flaying the poor bastard who had caught his gimlet eye.
When using the strap, every Brother but one would instruct the victim to hold out their trembling hand, put their left foot forward, squirm his heels into the carpet to ensure a stable base, and commence flaying.
Not Brother Dom. He would make the victim rest his extended hand on the teacher’s desk, just to make sure the hand would be crushed between leather and timber; he would then turn and stride to the strip of duct-tape which marked the start of his run up.
If you pissed your pants or cried out in pain while he flayed your digits, he gave you another six on each hand for good measure.
The nuns – of some obscure order called The Little Sisters of The Explosive Contraption or some such – were worse. The headmistress was a fearsome nun called Sister Raphael. A village blacksmith in a previous life, Sister Raphael wore steel-reinforced leather gloves and a rope belt equipped with a massive iron ring.
On the iron ring were hundreds of keys. The keys were for the chastity belts which girls above the age of 12 were required to don upon entering the school grounds.
So why, I hear you ask, weren’t the Brothers and Sisters driven out by pitchfork-wielding peasants?
Because the pitchfork wielding peasants were the God-fearing Italian parents of 99 per cent of the student population, and the Brothers and Sisters had the good sense to erect a statue of the Madonna at the entrance to the school grounds.
Anybody who dedicated their lives to the service of the Pope, in the guise of the Blessed Virgin, could do no wrong in Eyetie eyes and the children of the Republic were enrolled en-masse.
When they first arrived, they all looked like hunchbacks suffering a bad case of rickets, but nobody who ate a lunch delivered by donkey cart could suffer a vitamin deficiency. The stoop and shuffling gait was caused by the weight of the gold crucifixes hanging from their necks and the hundred-weight of candles they had to light in the chapel every day.
Let me go on the record as saying that I quite like Italians. They have given the world Michelangelo and Mazzerati; Caravaggio, Cannelloni, Cacciatore and Cunnilingus; Pizza, Pasta, Puccini, Paganini and Pavarotti; Fiat, Ferrari and Fellatio.
Unfortunately, the Italians also gave us the Mafia, machismo and Joe Marinaro, the author of the 30-year reunion email.
The ultimate school bully, Joe’s mission in life was to demonstrate the power of his machismo by making the life of somebody, somewhere, miserable.
Like many of his compatriots, Joe believed he was the love child of Rocky Balboa and John Gotti, notwithstanding that he looked like the love child of Danny De Vito and Joe Pesci.
There were Italian boys who looked like Michelangelo’s David, spoke like Cicero and had minds to rival da Vinci, but they all meekly accepted Joe’s rule because Joe was the son of ‘the boss’.
Surrounded by a coterie of trainee bullies, he would walk up to people at random and say: “I reckon you are a gay, your mum is a dumb slut and your dad is an alcoholic”.
He must have said this to me at least three times a week for five years. Every time he said it I would reply: “You are right. I am gay, and my mum works double-shifts in a brothel just to pay for my dad’s bottle-shop bill”.
Why he seemed to pay such particular attention to me I never knew. All I knew was that between Herr Schmidt, Brother Dom, Brother Bruce – who coached the football team and specialised in personalised rub-downs after games – Sister Raff and Joe, I had more of school than I could take.
Yet, when Joe sent me an email greeting my like a long lost brother, begging me to come to the re-union, I didn’t tell him to fuck off.
I didn’t tell him to fuck off, because he mentioned that Anna Vespucci would be at the re-union. Anna Vespucci had tits like honeydew melons and nipples like brickie’s thumbs.
I would have crawled 100 miles over broken glass just to stick matchsticks in her turds.
Unfortunately, she also hated my guts. She taunted me mercilessly for five years, pausing only for those frequent intervals when she was shagging every male with a school uniform and a heartbeat. She fucked everybody except me yet, in my juvenile mind, I was the only one who actually liked her.
I went. The reunion was in a popular hotel near our school - an appropriate venue considering that most of us had frequented the front bar while were still at school – and it was great.
Great, not because I caught up with all of those fantastic friends I had lost tough with – they were school kids gone bald, with fat stomachs and lots of kids – but because it was that rarest of experiences when a venture into the past leaves you feeling better.
Joe, it transpired, was obsequiousness personified. The son of a cut-price Don Corleone, he had married the daughter of a clan rival – thus sealing the familial bond of cease-fire between the two – only to blot his copybook and reignite a 300-year-old feud by impregnating the daughter of one of his father’s sworn enemies at his first-born’s christening party.
He had gone from ‘heir to empire’ to ‘idiot son to be abandoned, but not quite disowned’ in, so rumour had it, 30 seconds. He needed all the friends he could get, considering that his business card proclaimed him as an “Environmental Recovery Engineer: Human Waste Division”.
And what had become of the sweet, melon-titted Anna?
Once the reunion was fully in swing and everybody was busy comparing beer guts and stretch marks, we found ourselves together in a quiet corner.
Looking better than she had 30 years earlier (she had married a cosmetic surgeon, who specialised in nipple-enhancements, and had flown in from LA for the evening) she explained that she had been promised to Joe since puberty as a peace offering and, knowing that she was going to spend the rest of her life with a complete knob, she had set out to sample as many other knobs as she could before the dreaded day of matrimony.
“Yes”, I said, “but why not my knob”?
“Because”, she said, “I liked you. I didn’t care about any of the others, but I really liked you and I thought that if I went with you Joe would hurt you. I didn’t want you to be hurt.”
With that, she kissed me lightly on the cheek, stabbed me in the chest with a 7.62 silicon nipple and gave me a woody-inducing view of her surgically teen-aged butt as she decamped to her limo parked in the taxi zone outside, leaving my life forever.
I had broken my own rule about revisiting the past, but had added a new lustre to the memories I would take into the nursing home.
While patience had paid off and I had seen Joe suffer far more than I had – I was always a dweeb, but he was a prince reduced to dweebdom – I had also been given a ray of sunshine to brighten my dotage.
Ok, I didn’t really believe that crap about “I didn’t fuck you because I liked you too much”, but when the brain addles and the memory banks become a bargain bin at a jumble sale, I’ll recall the words, play make-believe and sail off into a happily melon-choly sunset.