|The Irish Hungarian (left) and associate, circa 1973|
* * *
The most injurious and unfair insult I fielded on account of my nearly pagan blood came during the spring months of my sixth, seventh and eighth years when each of my Catholic girlfriends was treated to a mysterious rite. With it came a grand party (to which I was never invited) complete with gifts and cake and a special dress. "First Communion" dresses were always fluffy with lace. I'd peer out of the living room window on those gentle Saturday mornings over a soggy bowl of Count Chocula, watching the little Catholic girls twirling in cartwheels across the green green lawns in their perfect white dresses.
They had bevies of brothers who laughed loud and wore jerseys emblazoned with the words "Notre Dame" along with a cartoon Irishman posed in fisticuffs. They had swarms of sisters who wept over boyfriends and prayer cards. My one sibling brooded over Bob Dylan and was the object of bullies' sneers.
The Shaughnessys had a dewy-eyed Virgin statue in their backyard whose hands were forever upraised. I had a smoky-eyed nude woman called Playmate that lived in my father's nightstand and was replaced every month. Patty and Bridgette and Mary ate fish on Fridays while I sat cross-legged in front of the black-and-white television in my parent's bedroom watching reruns of Love American Style. The Gallagher's' living room featured an oil painting of an androgynous man named Jesus who would love them no matter what.
"Don't worry," Mrs. Gallagher assured me despite the note of condescension in her voice, "Jesus loves you too."
Every Catholic household had an odorless oppressive guilt about it that I never understood. Whenever I crossed one of their thresholds, it was as if I was awaiting some unseen judgment that would deem me bad or good. Hence, to hear that Jesus loved me evoked a private sigh of relief. The feeling lasted as long as it took for Mrs. Gallagher to stub out her Kool, tap a fresh one from the pack and say, "Jesus died for your sins." Confusion bloomed. Sins? Me?
Since the tender age of eleven, I did have one way to sin all by myself that was worth risking whatever this Jesus guy had to dish out. I told myself that he couldn't possibly know anything about what I did alone. And wasn't he already dead?
Nonetheless, I worried.
* * *
As the readership has probably surmised, I eventually stopped worrying.