Dangerspouse Rides Again

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Feb. 23, 2004 - 1:27 p.m.

It's amazing what you can look back on and laugh about, given enough time. When I was in the third grade, I had a bleeding ulcer. Not some internal abrasion brought on by downing too many acidic copper pennies, mind you. This was a full blown, middle-aged junior executive, Dewars pounding, 3 mortgages with heavyset feckless wife and 2 ungrateful teens bleeding ulcer.

What in the world was an 8 year old so stressed over that he came to live on nothing but Maalox and Valium for 8 months? How does a pre-pubescent Innocent so gnaw at his innards, night after night, that he gets anemia from vomitting up almost 20 percent of his blood every week? Was he raised by Joel Steinberg and Susan Smith in some squalid backwoods Kentucky shack, forced to attend weekly evangelical snake handling services while bad white Gospel singers yowled and swayed for hours at a time? Was he a Republican?


He was attacked.

By penguins.

Every. Fucking. Day.

My dad was a very devout Roman Catholic; a Jesuit. Despite that, he was also a very devout scientist. This was back when the two were not necessarily mutually exclusive. So along with the chemistry sets and telescopes and ant farms I was constantly provided with, my parents also enrolled me in Our Lady of the Valley Parochial School in Wayne, NJ.

** You know, I'm thinking I may have related this happy little tale some time ago in this very diary. But I'm not sure. And - typical of my MO - I'm both too lazy and too apathetic to check. So fuck it, you'll hear it again. If I did tell it before, I mean. If I didn't...you'll love it. I get tortured. **

So yeah, after graduating (with honors) from James Fallon Kindergarten, a secular haven of primary colors and soft nap-mats, my folks shelled out probably 30% of their GNP to enroll me in a featureless tan prison, which was warded over by the most ruthless band of sexually frustrated manhaters this side of Valerie Solanis:


That's what every Catholic kid knows Nuns as; those fat, waddling Sisters of Mercy in black and white starched habits. Those nasty, nasty habits.

Evil Penguins.

And I had the most evil bird of all as my 3rd grade teacher. The Mother Superior of all Penguins. I don't even remember her name, but I can call up those beady yellow irises and that frothing beak just by closing my eyes. She was determined to get us to Heaven by showing us how bad Hell was. Now granted, 1st and 2nd grades were no Garden of Paradise either. Corporal punishment was meted out with holy glee from the moment the parents waved goodbye at the bus stop on our very first day of school. But this bitch took it to a whole new level.

I don't recall all the "persuasive devices" she used to enforce her Pax Spheniscidae, but I do remember the one that used to terrorize me the most: the closet. Anything more than the most minor of infractions (like blinking) would net the malefacter a stay in the coat closet for the rest of the day. If you committed your atrocity at the beginning of the day, you were there for hours. You had to stand, silent, in the dark among the coats and supplies until the final bell rang. I still can't stomach the smell of construction paper. No lunch. No bathroom breaks. No sitting. No air. Just you and Jesus.

My ulcer bloomed by the second month of the new year.

(I wasn't going to go into any more detail. But I will. Near the end of the year, on a hot early Summer's day, the Killer Penguin had us all stay after school for some misdeed we'd apparently committed en masse. We had to sit bolt upright, hands folded in front of us, without saying a word, for however long she deemed sufficient to attone for our sin. I remember she had us close the windows, and it was blisteringly hot. Along about the one hour mark, from the heat and the tension, my ulcer acted up. Despite the heavy medications I was on, my stomach filled and, well, I couldn't stop it. I sprayed a torrent of hot blood and peptic acid all over my desktop, the floor around me, and my neighbor's Oxfords. No warning at all, just "BROOWWWWWWWFFFFFFF". I struggled to stay sitting upright, as if nothing had happened.

Now, what do you think the reaction of this Woman of God was to seeing an 8 year old boy uncontrollably vomitting up a kiddy pool's worth of blood right in front of her? She immediately called for the school nurse, right?


That woman made me get a mop and a roll of paper towels, then stood over me and berated me for not being "man" enough to keep an ulcer under control. Afterwards I had to struggle with a mop handle twice my height in a sink that was higher than my shoulders until I got the mop head hospital clean. It looked like the shower scene from "Carrie" in there. But I got it clean, after which she grudgingly let me go home so I could pass out from hypotension.)

My parents pulled me out of that school midway through the next year. But not because they recognized that their only son was mere weeks away from a permanent bed in the Wayne General Hospital ICU ward. They yanked me because my Mom was incensed that the school would not let her buy shirts on sale. See, we all had to wear our little Catholic uniform. Which for the boys meant a white shirt, Navy pants, Navy blazer, and plaid clip-on tie. Well my mom had found a terrific sale on very pale yellow dress shirts at Two Guys Department Store this particular week, and sent me off to school the next morning wearing one.

Two hours later I was back home handing my Mother a note which informed her that ONLY white shirts were acceptable. She would have to go to a better store and purchase new, white shirts before I was allowed back. My Mother was a very devout Catholic like my Dad, but unlike my Dad she was Sicilian. And nobody fucks with a Sicilian's money. Not even the Church.

I was enrolled in Wayne's public school the very next day.

At that age, the lunacy of the whole scene escaped me. Frankly, even if I was astute enough to discerne that my Mother place economics above my health, I would not have been able to bring myself to a state of indignation. For one thing, constant blood loss just kept me from caring about anything. For another, I was just so damned relieved that I didn't care what the reason was. It would be like telling an inmate of Auschwitz that his liberator had once been arrested for jaywalking. The tatoo'd walking skeleton would just smile and eat another k-ration. That was me.

And you know what? I laugh about the whole scene now, and have for many years. The thought of an 8 year old getting so worked up that he practically had to walk around with a mobile IV bag attached to replace hurled fluids floors me up, even though it was me. I crack up thinking that there was a band of women so intent on denying their sexuality that their repressed desires became manifest as violence against the helpless waifs in their charge. Everything about it just gives me the giggles.

However, you know what STILL bugs me after all these years? The very next day after leaving Our Lady of the Valley, I was sitting in my new chair in Mr. Mann's 4th grade class at James Fallon Elementary School. I had my pale yellow shirt on (no tie!). I'd had the classic "new kid in class" introduction, standing at the front of the class with the teacher's arm around my shoulder as he said "Now class, I want you all to welcome our new student. This is Dangerspouse, and he'll be with us from now on." (I wasn't called 'Dangerspouse' back then, obviously. I was still 'Dangersingle'.) I took a seat in the middle of the pack, and settled back to learn in a Fear Free Zone. It was Heaven.

Obviously, that's not what bugs me. What bugs me, I mean what really, really bugs me still to this day, was this:

That very first day in Mr. Mann's class, the very first question he asked us was "Class, who can tell me how many inches there are in a yard?" Almost every hand in that classroom shot up, including mine. Mr. Mann, no doubt wanting to make me feel included right away, pointed to my desk. I confidently piped up with my answer.

"Thirty two inches!"

Mr. Mann looked at me and said "Oh I'm sorry Dangerspouse, but that's not correct. Anybody else know?"

I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach. By a penguin. I could hear some of the kids around me sniggering. They thought the new kid was a dummy! I didn't raise my hand the rest of the year.

Those goddamned penguins! They took the most extreme measures, enforced the strictest discipline, and we still didn't learn a thing! What the hell were parents paying 3 times the cost of a new car to send their kids to a private Catholic school for, if not to get a superior education, and a solid moral grounding? I didn't even know how many inches were in a yard, fer chrissake!

So yeah, that's the thing that bugs me. I'm vain and insecure enough that a missed question in 4th grade math still fucks with my mind. And it really does affect me, even today. And I mean, like today specifically, not the general "today", as in "these here times".

Yes, today.

Today I got off work and stopped at The Rag Shoppe on the way home because NewWifey(tm) needed some fabric. I had spilled a glass of red wine on our sofa cushion when I was impressing her with how I could balance a full glass on my forehead while reciting "Green Eggs and Ham". The stain wouldn't come out, the cushion can't be flipped...so I have to buy new fabric. She graciously offered to do the re-covering. (More specifically, she said "If you think I'm going to let your stupid ass sit anywhere other than a cinderblock from now on, you're out of your fucking mind. You're not coming anywhere near that sofa, even to fix it. You hear me?" I heard her.)

So NewWifey(tm) gave me the fabric number and told me to pick up a square yard. I marched up to the lady with the tape measure and cat-eye glasses and said:

"I'd like 32 square inches of #721-BB fabric please."

I trundled the heavy cotton swatch under my arm and made for home. Twenty minutes later I pulled it from the bag and laid it over the burgundy stain.

That's funny. There was a good two inches of stain peeking out from around each edge of the patch! How did that happen? NewWifey(tm) is always very exact in her measu....


It was too late. Even as the realization hit me that my old nemesis had beaten me yet again, I could hear NewWifey(tm)'s Ford Escape crunching the ice as she pulled into the driveway. I was doomed.

She spotted it immediately upon walking in the door of course.

"What the hell is this?? I told you to get a square yard - this looks like it can't be more than 32 square inches!"

I may be dumb, but I'm glib when backed into a corner.

"See honey, they were almost out of this particular pattern. They gave me what they had, but said if it wasn't enough I could bring it back tomorrow since they're getting a new shipment in then. So I took what they had and hoped for the best. I'll just swing by again on my way home tomorrow and get the right ammount. It was worth a shot, right?"

She bought it.

So tomorrow I have to hoof it back to Ye Olde Rag Shoppe on Rt.23 in Packanack Lake and wade through a sea of fabric bolts until I find the lady with the beehive hairdo and cat eye glasses, then explain to her that I actually said "36 inches" the day before but she gave me "32 inches" by mistake. Fortunately all old people have the sneaking suspicion that their hearing is constantly playing tricks on them, so I may have a shot at pulling this one off.

But damn, this whole thing never would have happened if it weren't for those fucking penguins.

G'night kids. Say a prayer for me.

EDIT: Shortly after posting this I started perusing some other diaries. Did you see what all is going on in unclebob's life?! The poor guy has managed to compress the agony quotient of my entire Parochial School career into one month. He lost his job, his entire family is so sick you have to wear a full Haz-Mat suit just to read his diary, and his choice for president has almost as much chance of gaining the White House this year as Purple Tinkie does. I really feel bad for the guy - so bad that I can't even leave a supportive comment at his diary. When things go THAT bad with someone, all my attempts at succor always come out as sounding either maudlin or flippantly insincere. But if you're the type who is more adept at expressing those sorts of sympathetic noises, by all means stop over and give a kind word to everybody's favorite Uncle. The penguins would approve.

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