One day in high school, my year was sent to Pope John’s to see a play. Delegates from two other local Catholic High Schools were bussed in; since we were just around the corner from Pope John’s, we walked. It was pretty exciting to see all those other young people – there was a lot of hooting and shouting “women!” and slapping ourselves with our shoes etc. – but it was also boring to see a play, so things all evened out. The play was one of those involutionary interactive types where they do a bunch playacting then a character playing the role of a detective sort of raps with the audience for a while and brings out the other characters and we try to solve the mystery for the detective. Mysteriously, the assistance of several hundred Catholic Middlesex County teenagers did not further the Colonial era detective’s cause. Oh, yes, how clumsy of me not to have mentioned, the play was about some sort of Colonial era witch hunt with period dialogue and costumes and a period-authentic burning but unrealized need to establish an American regional mode of expression in literature and the arts that was not to be given full flower until the nineteenth century. Anyways, we were all watching a perhaps less than perfect stage production. I cannot imagine what persuaded the powers that be in the Catholic Conference schools to arrange this entertainment for us. For the first part, high school students are generally less than gracious when assembled, and I see no need to inflict this fact on hired professionals, particularly the not the combined effort of four tribes, all eager to impress the others with their talents for the obnoxious and the crafting of fake names with the word “Butt” in them. Secondly, I do not see the particular need for a group of young Catholics to gather and reflect on the mysteries of Colonial era witch hunts, unless, perhaps, we were meant to join a ministry on Earth in God’s service dedicated to the secretly organized prosecution and execution of witches. Perhaps the good boys, the pious boys, left the play and after school pulled Mr. Pettite aside, and said, “Mr. Pettite, I just want you to know that I completely understand what we saw today, and if you ever need my help with anything – anything – let me know, and I’ll be there for you. My eyes are open under the hand of God and I’ll be there for you.” And Mr. Pettite would knowingly smile and show up in the pious boy’s bedroom that night at midnight with his witchhunting robes and would enact the ceremonies of consecration of a young man’s purpose to God’s ends of the destruction of witches and give him an old leatherbound manual on the identification of hags, werewolves, vampires, nibblehogs, menstruating women, and other monsters in Beelzebub’s horny menagerie.
Anyways, as I said, I also did not see why Catholic schools particularly should have had this inflicted on them. Granted, we had recently read, if memory serves, Arthur Miller’s Crucible, and previous to that, The Boring Scarlet Letter, as part of our English department’s ongoing academic program of being conspicuously worse than the hard or social sciences in our school and having students throughout the academic program participate in vocabulary lessons which is essentially spelling, like you remember from second grade, except in lieu of lessons being themed around ideas like “tricky T,” they are “words from Spanish” and the words are all stupid, just so that you do not embarrass yourself when you show up at college and everyone keeps talking about juntas. I have started digressing again.
My third concern is that I do not know quite what benefit our school’s administrators expected to garner when we were given the opportunity to interface with people wearing buckles on their hats in a place unfamiliar to our eyes and thus seemingly beyond the laws that normally bound us. It was a pretty good time, some of our boys got off some very humorous names that were not actually their own over the shushes of our custodians. But things got wicked awesome when the nerds came out and started participating earnestly in the mystery-solving, each boy hoping to be the one to unravel the case of the young housemaid’s alleged witching. O’Meara, whom in retrospect was destined to champion the cause of nerdlery for us Lancers, raised his hand with a pencil in it in that same obnoxious self-important way he always used in class that made all of us most particularly me so angry and boy I hated that rotten O’Meara with his no good smug hand raising style! That is why I sometimes would steal his pencils. Still, one’s heart could not but swell with pride, when Brian, concerned with the judicial miscarriage we were watching, and full of a well-earned knowledge of various marginal glosses to our textbook’s rendition of The Crucible, inquired of Colonial Detective #1, and I quote, “Had the poppets human hair, or had they merely hog’s?”* It was pretty exciting, and we were pleased to establish our dominance over our coevals in the field of saying completely insane things to a dude wearing a waist-length cape. Sadly, our triumph was short lived. Not long after the players struggled to make the answer to Brian’s question known (The answer: I don’t care), one of the young gentleman from another school indicated that he, too, would like a word with the detective. The detective, let us, to humanize him, call him Temperance Bradstreet, Colonial Dick, anyways, Temperance Bradstreet, Colonial Dick, asked the young gentleman his name, not having learned, evidently, that this line of inquiry was generally prone to producing a seemingly endless stream of young men whose names contained colloquial terms for the human anatomy. The young gentleman had no such inclination, though. He – and I really wish, readers, that I could perform this next and most important bit of the tale for you directly, since I have been told that my impression of the fellow’s voice is impressively accurate – answered, assertive and bold, “I am Shoemaker, of Chelsea!” This pretty much won everyone’s affection, and not just the handful of Chelsea loyalists throughout the room, everyone was pretty happy about Shoemaker’s ready participation in the festivities. Truly, the high point of a good many days.
Bill Barasso ((?) Was it he?) tried to follow up on Shoemaker’s coup – when asked for his name, he said it was “Bob Shoes.” Brilliant in its own way, but not the same at all. Also, the actor portraying Temperance Bradstreet sussed Bill’s ruse, and replied that, no, his name was not Bob Shoes at all. Bill held his ground, and they had quite seriously a few back and forths on the model of
Man dressed like Thanksgiving decoration: Your name is not Bob Shoes!
Bill, in guise of Bob Shoes: Yeah it is!
Man: No it is not!
Bill: Yeah it is!
Man: It is not!
Bill: Yeah it is!
Man: Your name is not Bob Shoes!
Bill: Yeah it is!
Barry Dwyer rose to Bill’s defense, promising that, yes, this young man was indeed named Bob Shoes, it was a fact, and like Germany in World War I, the effort of fighting a war on two fronts soon tired T. Bradstreet to the point of granting that, okay, Mr. Shoes, what would you like to know about the mystery? I am afraid that I cannot call to mind Bill’s question at that point, to be honest, it may not have actually been a very penetrating insight into the case.
Anyways, that’s my story, anything else amusing that happened that day has been similarly lost to time, although I know the walk back to our school through the Stuart’s parking lot was devoted pretty much entirely to loud imitations of Brian and Shoemaker. You may please fill in your own Cooley High, Stand By Me style of bittersweet epilogue on how our lives actually turned out in the end.
Poppet: (n) A common household doll. Accused witches were said to use the dolls to bewitch neighbors whom the poppets were meant to represent. Conventionally stuffed with hog’s hair, the witches were thought to steal hair from their victims for use in their dolls. Learn Along With Literature: Draw a picture of what you think a poppet might look like. What would you do if you knew witchcraft?