Tag Archives: Work

SUNDAY

I am upstairs in this new place we have down by the river, upstairs earlier today when the morning is almost the afternoon.  We are at home for about two hours after the eight o’clock Mass where we provide the musical entertainment, and after that, we stop off at the house of Tom Bolton, a retired state trooper, who lives a few doors down from us with his wife Dee, and their two dogs, Lillian who is a well mannered Chocolate Lab approaching a dignified age, and Garda Siochana, a youngster who is learning her manners, slowly, very slowly.  She just goes by the name of Garda, though.  Tom’s son, who is also Tom Bolton, named her.  It is probably because he is a Sergeant on the Nashua P.D., a pretty sharp cop who teaches at a local college and up at the State Police Academy. That, and the fact that they are Irish. Garda Siochana is the official Irish name of their national police force.

We bring them communion after Mass every Sunday because Tom has a motorcycle accident about ten years ago which almost kills him and leaves him not able to ride a motorcycle any more in addition to not being able to do much of anything else, including pee standing up.  Motorcycles will do that to a person. It is a fact that my sister, Stephanie, does not come to my wedding in St. Patrick’s Cathedral to Sheila Marie Teresa Welby back on a nice summer day in July in New York City, at 11:00 sharp in the morning, because she is in the surgical ward at Bellevue Hospital.  This is because she gets the big toe on her right foot cut off in the drive chain of the motorcycle owned by a friend of mine as they are about to come home from an evening celebrating that she will get the exclusive use of the bedroom that her brothers have now left.

We get the phone call near midnight, and my parents rush down to the hospital in a cab.  I stay at home and keep vigil with my friend Tom Sheridan, and fill a garbage can with empty beer cans.  Next day, after the ceremony and the reception, we begin our honeymoon with a visit to my sister in the hospital where Sheila delivers a piece of wedding cake and gives  her the bouquet.  And, as a direct result of that, I like to think, Stephanie marries Frank Morse a few years later who is a policeman in New York City, but is not attached to the motorcycle squad.

My friend Billy Chase, who we call Charming Billy, because he was just that, and has two blue eyes that don’t hurt the impression; two blue eyes like a soft summer sky, or a robin’s egg, and a voice like the feel of a cool silk pillow case on your cheek, was a cop for a few years in Watertown, which is a town next to Boston.  It has an arsenal that becomes a mall; an updated example of swords becoming plowshares.  One afternoon we are sitting in a car watching something that is supposed to happen not happen, and telling each other stories.  This is a thing to do to pass the time, after you have discussed everything else. He tells me that when he is a rookie cop in Watertown he is riding with an older guy one night when a call comes in about a motorcycle which loses a fight with a telephone pole, and would they like to go over and make sure the pole is all right because nothing else is.  And, when they get there they see that the motorcycle is scrap, and so is the guy who was riding it.  Only the motorcycle has all of its parts, but the guy is missing one of his.  The part missing is his head!  And, every thing for a few yards all around is covered in the guy’s blood like a fire hydrant blew its top.

“Go find the head,” the old cop says to my friend. “I’ll stay here for the fire department, ambulance and the wrecker.”  So Billy says he gets out of the car and goes off looking for the head which he does not find where he thought it would be.  It is not anywhere in front of the headless guy for a few dozen yards, or on either side for a few yards this way or that way.  He walks past his partner who throws him a questioning, “What’s up?” look from his seat in the car where he is sipping his coffee.  Is a head that hard to find?  And he starts looking down the street on both sides for the missing head.

Which head he finally locates about a hundred feet away on the other side of the street.  Off the road.  Under some guy’s boxwood hedge.  Still wearing the helmet.  “I found it” he yells.  His partner motions him back to the motorcycle.  When he gets there they talk, and wait.  One guy sitting in the car drinking coffee.  Billy leaning against it outside the car.  The head is where it landed.  The engine arrives and they leave, soon.  No fire, no need.  The ambulance comes next and two guys get out.

“Most of him is there,” Billy says pointing to the mess partly on the bike and partly not, staining the street and sidewalk.  They walk a couple of feet.   Make a few remarks.  Then one of them says, “Where’s the head?”  Billy,says, while he points down the block, “Back there about fifty feet under the hedge.”

The guy says, “Fly ball?”  Billy looks at him.  “Was it a fly ball or did it take a hop?  Any brains or blood on the road along the way?”  Billy says no.  The guy’s partner says, “He fouled out, then.”  The four guys laugh. The sanitation guys show up shortly and hose down the street after the dead guy and his head are bagged and taken to the ME for a medical ruling of death by fouling out.

Billy tells me this story again at least twenty years ago while we are drinking in a bar one night during some bullshit conference in Newport, which like most conferences is really an excuse to get drunk with your friends in a place where you are close enough to walk to a comfortable place to sleep.  Only this time he has added the detail about the cause of death.  Stories have a life of their own, I think.

When I am upstairs after bringing communion to Tom Bolton who, I swear to God, had his head sown back on his shoulders. I’ve seen the scar, and the tattoo he had put on his neck, a zipper.  I think of the story again.

I get the book I went up to get and come back down here to read it.  “Damon Runyon: A Life” by Jimmy Breslin.  I always like a story by either of these guys.  They were like farmers with the facts.

I never asked what happened to the helmet.

John 11: 50

 

Here is a letter I have written to Fr. Robert Shanley, President of Providence College, and who is currently presidentially presiding over the very dignified and collegial lynching of a great scholar, a devout Catholic defender of the Truth, and a good and decent man.  I imagine him in his robes of office: aloof, yes, compassionate, of course, aware of all the necessary facts, without question, and deeply concerned for the lives, and souls and the, well, the reputations about to be supported or sacrificed for the greater good of the school and benefit of all mankind.  It is what presidents do…when not playing golf or hosting benefactors, delivering speeches and looking magisterial and compassionate, wise and consoling, boundlessly merciful and intuitively practical; when being, in a word, godly:

 

Rev Robert Shanley, O.P.

President

Providence College

1 Cunningham Square

Providence, RI 02918 USA

 

Dear Father Shanley,

You have been described to me by people better informed than I am as a philosopher, an art of which I have only a passing knowledge.  And as a priest, and a Dominican at that, I am reasonably sure that you are more than well versed in Catholic theology. Indulge me in a little bit of my own background, stories from my youth about philosophy and theology.

Father Anthony Rubsys, who went to Heaven, I am sure, in August, 2002, was a refugee from Communism who came to America during the Hungarian uprising.  He was a biblical scholar fluent in seven languages, a good and gentle, a loving, man.  He taught me in class and counseled me out of it.  He was extremely intelligent, extremely gentle and deeply concerned for The Good.  Why else not, I have often wondered while thinking about and praying for him; a man who saw and suffered much, all of it the result of when and where he lived before coming to this country, through the horrors of Nazism and the Second World War and the soul sickening weight of post-war Communist rule.

As an assignment in one of his classes, I wrote a paper on Thus Spake Zarathustra.  I was taken then with the Strauss tone poem, and stupid student stuff.  So I wrote the paper and handed it in.  Several days later Father Rubsys returned it with this note in his handwriting above my title, which was something like Superman, “Why do you waste your time on this when the faith has so much more to offer, to study?”  I cannot remember much beyond the title of the thing I wrote about. Nor can I remember much about the music, except what bit of it opens that film by Stanley Kubrick.  Few, I suspect, will remember much about it, if anything at all in another hundred or so years.  Almost no one knows the film’s music’s title.

Harry Blair was a much decorated World War II veteran, a tank commander in Gen. Patton’s Third Army, a tragic man, and a Shakespeare and Renaissance scholar.  I took every class of his that I could and got to know him very well.  He drank too much; but, I suppose, he had every reason to do that.  When he taught King Lear his classroom was filled beyond capacity. His rendering of the King’s speech in the storm on the moor brought more than one student to tears, myself included, as we listened to an old man pour out his grief at having given his life to his children and been misunderstood, spurned, betrayed, cast away.

I once had a letter published in the school’s newspaper…the editor was a friend of mine…and Harry read it, of course.  The letter called for the “aggiornamento” underway in Rome to be extended and applied at the school, for there to be a radical change in, well, just about everything.  I remember I called not only for windows to be opened but walls to be demolished and ended with “I would have no church at all!”  Brave words, I have thought more than once since.  Brave words for the inferno we face, now.  We sat together, Harry and I at the bar in the Pinewood drinking an afternoon beer and he showed me the issue of the paper with my letter, quietly asking me what had possessed me to write it.  Seriously I answered at length about all of the things I saw that were wrong and needed changing.  “You are very young,” he answered, and then we went on to talk of other things, though I do recall him wondering aloud about the lady I was soon to marry and asking how she felt, how I might feel when I was a father.  But, there he left it.

Bear with me, please, Father.  I do have a point.

There is no doubt that Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a philosopher like yourself, and a great and good man.  Were he a Catholic, I suppose his cause would already have been introduced.  In many ways he was a martyr for the truth, and a lover of the beautiful in people, in society and in all of creation; even when found in the Gulag, anterooms to hell built and maintained by hell’s servants here on earth.  Maybe that’s overly dramatic, but, nevertheless…  Joseph Pearce, who wrote an excellent biography of Solzhenitsyn, has written his own story, and a fascinating one it is.  He calls it Race With the Devil, and discusses his descent into violent racism and hate, and ascent from it through the grace of God.  Indulge me in a quote from Pearce’s book:

“My descent into delinquency was aided and abetted by the progressive philosophy adopted by the school. No effort was made to impose discipline, which resulted in the triumph of anarchy in the classroom… (The) disruptive elements made it difficult, if not impossible, for teachers to teach and for students to learn.”

I apologize for the size of the quote.  I cannot figure out how to change the font. Nevertheless, it’s the sad truth and the tragic cause of the matter at hand, and the inevitable result of the choice in this matter (and in how many others?) you and the faculty quislings who brought this complaint against Professor Esolen to you seem, for all of your wisdom, training, education and Catholicity, to have made.  That the “death” of one man is necessary.

And, I cannot understand why you did what you did; a great disservice to the students , confirming them in their stupid and uncharitable,  selfish and infantile behavior…at the same time causing pain, anxiety and worry to not only this good man and his family, but thousands of other people who have never yet met the man face to face but know and treasure him through his prolific good works, his brilliantly clear and consistently charitable mind, and his reliably masterful scholarship.

You are a priest and pastor, too, finally much more important callings than mere president.  Have you acted in this instance as either one?

I expect that  Caiaphas was thought a wise and good man, a president, so to speak, who gave no help when help was needed.  And, of course, we all know what to think of Pontius Pilate, who simply gave up before the angry mob.

Which of the two should one say best describes you in this matter?

Yours truly,

Peter Gallaher

PS:  I only know of one other person named Shanley, a fellow I came across many years ago when I was working.  He was a Wormtongue, covert slave to Saruman.  In other words a coward and a traitor.

 

 

WEEDING (A Story For The End Of Lent)

While nothing seemed necessary, everything was.

The old man walked slowly down the alley alongside the building.  It was no true alley he thought, but he had taken to calling it one.  It was really a driveway, a passage in England or Ireland, leading to the garage.  “True” alleys are narrow spaces between tall brick buildings.  To his left was the rectory, an old Victorian mansion.  On his right, a narrow space of struggling Bishop’s Weed and Periwinkle, some old trees and vibrant, vigorous, healthy invaders, weeds.  But this was an alley because he had named it “alley”.  It was a word from home, a place filled with alleys, “true” alleys; and so, an alley to him it became as he walked a bit unevenly, a bit gingerly down it.  He had work to do.

Long, long ago alleys figured in his life.  Alleys were hangouts, hiding places, respites from the summer heat; a place to play blackjack for pennies or nickel-dime poker, experiment with cigarettes and beer, joke with your buddies or begin to explore the differences between boys and girls; until Mrs. Third Floor Busy-body, the neighborhood conscience, called the “Super” and he chased everyone out into the sun.  Growing up he’d enjoyed being in the alleys of home, and didn’t even mind that the rest of the world might think of an “allee” as some tree lined avenue leading to a chateau in the French or English country side.  He didn’t mind, really, because he’d not come across that word until years later in college.  He’d spent a lot of time in alleys. He knew them well, those places of cool shade away from the light.

He entered the garage through the open door, the broken one which wouldn’t stay on its track so dust and leaves entered the place and had to be swept up and thrown away once in a while. The garage would look neat for another week or so, until the wind and rain filled it up again and the broom needed wielding on the floor.  There were two brooms in the garage.  Both had seen better days, had served well.  For that matter, so had the garage itself seen better days and served well.  The brooms stood just inside the broken door, leaned against the wall near some old garden tools which, if anything, had seen and served as much as the brooms.  One or two were dangled from sturdy old nails pounded long ago into the wooden beams, thick unfinished oak still showing the cuts made by the tools which gave them their roughly rectangular form.

There was an old hoe, a small headed gardening spade, a garden rake, an old claw hammer and a four tined haying fork still sharp and dangerous.  And there was his favorite, an ancient cultivator with a mantis shaped head angled back at about fifteen degrees from the shaft.  Slender, thin and deadly it looked.  It was.  Only an eighteen inch fragment of the shaft was left, split and sharp edged; a place of splinters as mean as snake bites if not properly handled.  Nevertheless, it was his favorite tool.  It had been his favorite before it broke, and it was his favorite still.  It looked mean and useful.  It was.

Maybe it was because he had to get closer to the work he did with it that he liked it more now. Maybe it was the satisfaction he felt doing all of that ripping and tearing.  He’d bend low, bracing himself, his left forearm on left thigh, and plunge the tool into the earth behind an invading weed, some unwanted plant, and pull away.  Young oaks and maple saplings, clumps of grass, all would yield.  Some went with no effort at all and lay where they were thrown a few feet aside wilting in the heat; dead on the field.  Others, the deeper rooted ones, needed several stabbing thrusts into the dirt, each plunge deeper into their tangled roots, deeper into the web of weeds and worse the old place was covered with and buried in.

The point would sink into the earth; then a pull, a strain of muscle and tendon and wood and steel against earth and stone and root; then the ripping sound, the feel of things breaking underneath, letting go, and, sometimes, an explosion of soil and lines of roots came ripping free from the earth.  The offensive weed’s tendrils had spread all over.  At first he was surprised at how far and how deep those things went.  But, why not?  They’d had all that time and all that neglect to “settle in”. Often old pieces of machinery, wire, tin cans and other debris dumped back there years ago came free, too.  This was no liberation, though.  This was their defeat.

The old man took his tools from the rusty nails on the garage walls and walked outside.  Shade covered most of the old lot.  There wasn’t as much shade as last year, when the place had been twilight dark at mid-day.  That was before he and some friends had removed nearly a hundred saplings and small trees, and about a ton of long buried junk; the bad memories of other days.  What a bonfire they’d made.  But there was more.  Oh, boy was there more.  “Begin anywhere,” he thought, and he bent to the work.

From a great height, with a great force, the weapon fell directly into his heart, deep and deeper still.  Full into flesh it fell penetrating beyond all boundaries into the center of self; an intelligent weapon, a seeker, purposeful, single minded.  It was made so. And it cut away.  And it dug away.  And it tore away, leaving heavy with the waste of wrong, bringing to light the years of neglect.  Removing itself it returned again into his heart, and again, each return deeper, each stay shorter, each leaving lighter with each wrong removed.

The old man looked around him as he straightened, slowly, from his posture of attack over the torn up ground.  His mantis-headed tool was polished now by the scouring earth, a clump of black soil clinging to its point.  Like an extension of his right hand it hunk from his fist at his side.  He looked around at the work and was satisfied.  Dead Amorites, Jebbuzites and Canaanites…  They lay all about on the field; the enemies of the Lord.

It was a start.  Only that he knew.