Many of the names and some of the descriptions in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Singing Nun and the Great Poo-Poo Scandal of 1969, Part 2

If you followed the Great Poo-Poo Scandal from Part 1, you know the score. If you didn’t, here it is in a nutshell: in first grade David Grimaldi and I got busted for writing a bunch of potty words, such as “poo-poo” and “farts” on a piece of paper. After his mother had found the offending document, David told her that I had written the whole goddamn thing. Then she phoned Sister Jean Paez and demanded that I be punished. The next day, Sister Jean called us both to the back of the room and demanded to know who was responsible. David started bawling and insisted that I wrote all of it. I stuck to the truth and said we both authored the offensive material, But David wouldn’t admit to his half of the misdeed.

I knew David wouldn’t fess up, because he had already lied to his mom and Sister Jean, The Singing Nun. So there was Mexican standoff between two first graders, with Sister Jean knowing full well that David wrote half of the “dirty” words because the were in his handwriting. But she wanted the scandal to come to a halt before it mushroom-clouded into World War III. She wanted me to admit to the entire bathroom humor screed. Well, I’m not going do drag out the drama for you readers, just as I didn’t back then. David wasn’t going to put an end to the impasse, so I did.

“All right, I wrote it all,” I said. What the hell was she going to do—make me say 50 Hail Marys? Tell my parents? Go ahead, bitch, I’ll tell them the real story.

“Now that we have that settled,” she said, “I want you to tear this up and throw it away. It’s bad enough to write this kind of thing, but to use school supplies is inexcusable. A waste of paper.”

One fucking sheet. Big fucking deal. It’s a good thing I didn’t use a lot of the other words I knew. I bet Sister Jean’s intact hymen would have burst if I hat written “fuck,” “shit,” and “ass.” I knew them all. That paper was PG-rated for crying out loud.

“Bob, as far as I’m concerned, this is over,” she said, fluttering her eyelids to avoid looking me in the eye. “I’m not going to tell your parents about this, as long as you don’t do anything like this again.”

Then our eyes met. There was a knowing look to hers, communicating both appreciation and disgust, as if she were saying, “You’re a stand-up guy, but you’re still an asshole for being a party to this.” Of course, didn’t chastise me for “lying” about David’s involvement. Imagine that. Yes, she knew that if she started going off on my alleged lack of truthfulness, my indignation would have reached the breaking point, and I would have recanted my confession. The only lie in this matter was the one David was telling—the same one I was finally forced to repeat.

Before I go on with the story, let’s take an intermission to again observe the striking parallels between famous The Singing Nun, Sister Luc Gabriel (whom I described in Part I), and The Singing Nun of Ursuline Academy, Sister Jean Paez. Well, Sister Luc Gabriel could never duplicate the success of her 1963 hit song Dominique. In 1966 a movie starring Debbie Reynolds was made about her, but it was a box office failure. Sally Field spoofed her character in the TV series The Flying Nun. And, like Sister Luc Gabriel, Sister Jean Paez would become a parody of herself and fade into obscurity.

Back to the Great Poo-Poo Scandal of 1969: Well, I could stick with the lie no longer after Sister Jean told my parents about the whole thing during parent-teacher conferences that spring. God! Sister Jean told me that she was forgetting about the incident, that she wouldn’t mention it again, and then she went and told my fucking parents!

So I blurted out the whole story to mom and dad, and why I did what I did, and they sort of understood my reasoning. They were still pissed at me, and they were pissed at Sister Jean for pressuring me to take the rap, but they chose not to say anything to the bitch, which was all right by me, because, frankly, I had forgotten about the incident. “But Jesus,” I thought to myself. “What a fucking bitch of a nun!”

As for David and me, the “bathroom humor” scandal had cost us our friendship. I was willing to forgive and forget, but David shunned me for the rest of the year. For the first few weeks, I assumed that he avoided me because he was so embarrassed. But, over time, it was clear that his mother told him to stay away from me, and the momma’s boy wasn’t going to rock the boat. “Oh well,” I thought. “There’s nothing I can do about it. The spoiled brat cried his way out of that one. I have other friends.”

This should have been a character-building incident in my life, right? Wrong. I was a sucker. I knew that was the case on the first day of second grade, when everybody was talking about the great birthday party Dave had over the summer. Yes, I was the only one in the class who wasn’t invited! God! Dave’s mom strikes again. Was there no end to this fucking affair?

When I mentioned this scandal to my father a few years later, he explained that the parents of Ursuline Academy students were divided into two camps: David’s parents belonged to the group that was always trying to raise extra money from the parents to fund school programs, and my mother and father were part of the “not a penny more” group that demanded that the school should deliver a better educational product to justify the high tuition.

“So she pressured me to take the rap, and then tattled on me to get back at you guys,” I said.

“Yes, I guess Sister Jean was sending us a message. I guess she was telling us that there were consequences to our stance.”

“Incredible.” What I wanted to say was, “What a fucking bitch.” But I guess I didn’t have to. It went without saying.

So why did this miserable piece of crap become a nun? I developed a theory that in the late 1960s, when there was revolution in the air, sexual and otherwise, Sister Jean pulled off the ultimate rebellion for her generation: she went to seminary school and brought home to her parents the ultimate hippie boyfriend, complete with sandals, beard, and long hair: her beau’s name was Jesus. And you know what? After her bleeding heart act got old, Jesus kept trying to break up with her, but whenever he did, the tears came flowing, so he gave up. He’s stuck with her for eternity.

By the early 1970s, however, Ursuline got fed up with Sister Jean's bleeding heart shtick, and told her to pack her bags for an assignment in Europe. First, she had stopped wearing her habit, just like Sister Luc Gabriel, pictured above (real name: Jeanine Deckers). Then she had clashed with other nuns over her "peace sign" art projects for first graders for the first Earth Day in 1970, and her frequent criticisms about the Vietnam War. (The father of a girl in our class was killed in Vietnam, and her mother didn’t take kindly to the comments.) Sister Jean also questioned Sister Immaculata’s disciplinary method of threatening students with a yardstick, even though she never actually used it.

Sister Jean’s weapons of choice were far more horrifying than a yardstick: her acoustic guitar, her love for Ursuline’s spoiled misbehaving weasel students, her disdain for the average students, and her little boo-hoo act at the end of Mass when students wouldn’t listen to her sing.

The final straw at Ursuline Academy was when Sister Jean stopped her closing hymn for the gazillionth time and asked everybody to sit right back down until she finished. Well, some of the eighth graders didn't give a shit and kept right on walking—so Sister Jean put her guitar down, started crying, and ran off the stage faster than Snagglepuss, the cartoon mountain lion. Exit, stage left! Heavens to Murgatroyd! Sister Jean herself left before the end of the closing hymn!

Needless to say, silence enveloped the auditorium. The old nuns swooped down and commanded that everyone go back to their seats. Sister Jean never returned, so the old bags started the process for an orderly end to the Mass. They were pissed at the students, but it was even more obvious that they were infuriated at Sister Jean for bailing and leaving them to deal with the aftermath. They let us stew around in our seats for a while, making us fear the worst, then they moved into action.

"All right," said Sister Immaculata, "Expel the first row."

The first row solemnly arose and filed out. "Holy shit," I exclaimed. "Are they expelled from school?"

"No shithead," said an eighth grader who sat behind me. "She just means get the fuck out of the auditorium. They're not gonna expel anybody for making Sister Cry-baby cry. They need our fucking tuition."

I know what you're thinking. "Why the hell are you even writing about your boring encounters with Sister Jean? You got in trouble for something you didn't do. BFD! Get over it!" And in some ways you're right. It's not like she slapped me upside the head, like Sister Immaculata did after she caught me reading my MAD Magazine in the library. Hell, my father put up with much more punishment—verbal and corporal— at the hands of the nuns at Our Lady of Hope in Hungry Hill.

So what was so evil about Sister Jean? Well, I guess she gave me my first brush with injustice.

"Boo hoo," you say. Life goes on.

You're right. If I'm seeking the roots of my rebellion against authority, which manifested itself in my outrageous conduct as a teenager, better to point the finger at figures such as Richard Nixon.

But I can't. Sister Jean Paez is an easy target, and she was much more of a hypocrite than Tricky Dick.

Someone’s crying Lord, cumbaya. That someone is Sister Jean—at the end of every Mass I attend. I can see her as clear as tears. There she is, blathering and blubbering, because people are walking about before the closing hymn is over. Keep crying, Sister Jean. Cry me a river. Oh Lord, cumbaya.

The careers of Sister Jean Paez and her apparent idol, the famous Singing Nun, Sister Luc Gabriel, seemed to mirror each other in their pretentiousness, and, ultimately, their ruin. Pictured above is the Glee Club album that was Sister Jean's final shot at stardom and last gasp at staying at Ursuline Academy. "How could they force me into exile after this wonderful record?" she reasoned. Mother Superior's answer: "Beat it!" Yes! Elvis has left the building, and Sister Jean has left the country!

My voice is on the album, but noticeably prominent is Sister Jean's in her heartfelt rendition of, you guessed it: Cumbaya, her swan song.

Sister Luc Gabriel also had one last attempt at restoring her former glory: amidst financial problems, she released an embarrassing disco version of her 1963 song Dominique. Of course, it went over like a lead balloon.

Citing her enormous debt, Sister Luc Gabriel and her "companion" Anna Pecher did themselves in by overdosing on barbituates and alcohol. But in the ultimate irony on the very day of her suicide and without her knowledge, she was awarded about $300,000 in back royalties, which would have been more than enough to pay off her $65,000 debt.

Needless to say, this is the stuff of great comedy/tragedy, and in 1996, The Tragic and Horrible Life of the Singing Nun appeared Off-Broadway. In 2006, a musical version of the play was staged during the New York Music Theater Festival.

In case you're wondering, no, Sister Jean Paez wasn't the Ursuline Academy Singing Nun's real name. This is a pseudonym I concocted that resembles, in case you missed it, folk singer Joan Baez, another icon that undoubtedly loomed large in the life of Sister "Jean." Note, also, the similarities between the word "Paez" and "pious." Am I a great writer or what?

Oh Lord, cumbaya.

The Singing Nun and the Great Poo-Poo Scandal of 1969, Part 1

“Cumbaya my Lord, Cumbaya,” sang Sister Jean Paez before she brought the song to an abrupt halt. Suddenly, silence in the auditorium. “You are to wait until the end of the closing hymn before you rise out of your seats!” she bleated with a pouty frown, lower lip extended, her voice breaking with emotion, the tears welling up in her eyes. Only when each and every one of us planted our asses back in the seats did she resume playing her acoustic guitar. Aw, we hurt Sister Jean’s wittle feewings.

Sister Jean was one of those sensitive friggin flower-child “singing nuns” in every Catholic school. You know the type. The hippy dippy folk singer wanna-be who threw the inevitable hissy fit during the closing hymn of a Mass because the students had the nerve to get up and begin filing out of the auditorium before her little fucking folk fest was over.

Indeed, to this day, I have to wait until the Mass has truly ended before I dare get up and go in peace (thanks be to God) for fear that Sister Jean, wherever she is, will start bawling. Even when my kid is acting up and my wife suggests we leave after Communion, I feel guilty about bailing on the Mass to early, because it ain’t over until the crying nun stops singing, or the singing nun stops crying, or something like that.

Pictured above and below is not the Sister Jean that I rant and rave about. This woman is Jeanine Deckers, A.K.A. Sister Luc Gabriel, but better known as The Singing Nun, who became internationally famous in 1963 with her hit song Dominique. They are two different people, but is there any doubt that Deckers had an enormous influence on Sister Jean Paez and other singing nuns? In the late sixties and into the seventies, every Catholic school needed a singing nun with a guitar to hold folk masses, to put on Christmas pageants, to run the choir, and to teach music. For a nun, it’s a great gig if you can get it. It beats working for a living.

Sister Jean Paez was a tried and true bleeding heart. If you were just some normal kid, she had no use for you whatsoever. She treated the average children like shit. But boy did she love the problem students at Ursuline Academy, especially the truly hyperactive brats. And she especially showered her affection on the ones who happened to be there because they had been thrown out of the Springfield public schools, while the rest of us got the golden shower. Blessed were the troublemakers. The harder the case the better. If one of these little fucks disrupted the class with a joke, guess whom her anger was directed at? She punished people like me who laughed at their antics, of course. Why did she adore the misbehaving moppets so much? Who knows? Some women have a natural attraction for the “bad boys.” I learned that the hard way—during the “bathroom humor” scandal in the first grade.

This tempest in a pee-pot involved David Grimaldi and me. We got busted for writing such words and phrases as “ca-ca” and “farts” and “poops,” “toilet,” “pee-pee,” and “smell the big fat fart.” Here is how it all went down: David and I were good friends (even though he was Sister Jean’s little problem pet) and on the bus we took turns writing these dirty words on a piece of paper, laughing with delight.

But David’s mom wasn’t so delighted when she fished our collaborative project out of his book bag. The next day, after a few lessons, Sister Jean told everyone in the class to rest our heads on our desks for a few minutes. “Here we go,” I thought. “Another waste of time because she needs to take a break. Just like the praying stuff. Waste of time.” But then she called David and me to the back of the classroom. “Is she going to ask us to clean the chalkboard?” I asked myself.

Then she produced the evidence. Oh-oh.

“David’s mother found this in his bag. Who wrote it?” she asked.

“We both did. We were just fooling around.” I said turning to David. “I thought you was gonna throw it away.”

David started bawling. “Bob wrote it. I didn’t.”

“Bob, is this true?” she asked.

“Well, I didn’t write ALL of it. We both did it.”

“No, I didn’t write any of it!” cried David.

Even a six-year-old could see what was taking place here. When David’s mother grilled him the day before, he couldn’t admit to writing any of our little extracurricular project, so he blamed it on me. He was hoping it would end there. And it should have. But when his mom upped the ante and told Sister Jean what I dirty little mind I had, the situation started snowballing. David was in no position to tell the truth when the poo-poo hit the fan. He was in too deep: knee-deep in ca-ca, and the only way to get out was to implicate me.

“David, we both wrote it, and you know it,” I said, looking at him and then turning again to our inquisitor. “Honest, we didn’t mean for anybody to see it. I thought he was gonna throw it away.”

“I didn’t write anything,” sobbed David. “I didn’t do anything.”

“One of you is lying. And that makes what you did much, much worse,” said Sister Jean.

“We both wrote it,” I said, looking at David, appealing for an admission. But his eyes were closed, his nose was red, and the tears flowed. “I didn’t do it!” he wailed.

This went on and on for a few minutes. During the first few moments I thought that David might just own up to his part of the dirty deed. After all, it was the right thing to do. But I also understood that for him to admit anything at this point would get him in tremendous trouble for both the writing and the lying, not to mention dragging it on. So he was going to stick to his story.

And I was sick of this bullshit. The whole class, or at least the students in the back rows, could hear this little drama. A bit of bathroom humor had turned into a shitstorm with no end in sight. I even pointed out what I had written, lines such as “one poop two poops three poops four,” and the alternating lines he had penciled in: “Hear Dick fart. See Jane run.” Jesus Christ, wasn’t it obvious? Our “pencilmanship” was different, for Christ’s sake. I used a sharp pencil and a book behind the sheet of paper for support; David had written his witticisms with his dull pencil while the paper rested on his lap. It was evident we had taken turns.

For a millisecond I could see the “ah-ha” expression on Sister Jean’s face. It was a fleeting look, but it was there. But she didn't grill him and go in for the kill. David, despite mounting evidence of his guilt, continued to deny his involvement.

Yes, Sister Jean knew he was lying. No, I didn’t shed a tear because I had nothing to hide. Yes, I knew she was in a difficult position. But there is a difference between telling the truth and telling a lie. Isn’t a nun supposed to know that more than anyone? Was she that afraid of David’s mother?

So there we were. She wanted this to end. I wanted this to end. And David, bawling uncontrollably, was a mess.

So, what do you think happened next in the Great Poo-Poo Scandal of 1969? Would things get even more scandalous? Would the principal become involved? Stay tuned for Part 2. But first, another shot at the Singing Nuns:

The ultra liberal Sister Luke Gabriel (Jeanine Deckers) had so much in common with flower child Sister Jean Paez: both became too radical for their own good. Deckers started criticizing Church doctrine, became an advocate of the birth control pill, and in 1967 she recorded a song entitled "Glory Be to God for the Golden Pill." It tanked, and so did Sister Jean’s career at Ursuline Academy, as you will see.