This is the final Part IV of a four part story. (See Part I for Index). It is a story about relationships between and among teenagers. This includes intimate relationships between young males. If you don't approve or are offended, then how come you're reading this? Find a different story. Or perhaps read on; you may be persuaded to think differently.
If, for some legal reason, you are not allowed to read this in your area of the world because of illogical laws, again I will not condone (publicly) anyone breaking the law, so either move or read sentence six. I definitely don't want the thought police after either of our butts.
Please, this story is sort of my property, so if you ever want to quote some of it, please e-mail me and also give proper attribution.
Note that an author welcomes any feedback. Constructive criticism is appreciated, and all e-mails will be answered.
Chapter 88-- Religion Knows Nothing of Freedom
So here it was just past Christmas. Rocco and I had taken Tim and Billy to the Franklin Institute yesterday as part of their Christmas present. We had been thinking about some sports thing but football was over for the year and the city had no basketball since the Warriors moved to San Francisco. We had taken the SATs several weeks ago and Rocco was already on edge about his chances for a Merit Scholarship. As long as Rocco had something engaging his mind he was fine, but wow, otherwise he was becoming a basket case.
"Look White-boy, you gonna to be like this for the next two months?"
"Four weeks. The letters are supposed be sent out in February."
Errg! "That probably doesn`t mean February 1st. You are aware of that, right?"
"Don`t worry. I'll stay calm."
If that was calm I'd hate to see `on edge.' Rocco needed a diversion.
"Look, now the snow's cleared, Joey mentioned that he,Teague and a few other guys were going to Holmesburg Park early this afternoon for some basketball. Maybe we can round up Jimmy or Stan and go over there and maybe get up a game of half-ball after they're done. We haven't played since Thanksgiving weekend."
With nothing better to do, and not wanting to waste a perfectly good day before school restarted, I talked Rocco in going over there and at least watching for a while. Jimmy said he had chores until about 2 o'clock, but would be available afterwards if his mother didn't have anything else. We eventually sat down on the benches next to the basketball court. Teague, Joey, Brim, JD (whom I still never could get along with), and several others were playing like their lives depended on the outcome. There were even several white kids playing. This was one of the rare places where our two worlds commonly met. During a small break, several kids went into the playground to use the rest room. Teague pulled over one of the other kids whom I didn't know and seemed to be showing him something about shooting a hook shot. After several 'lessons' Teague slapped him on the back and said now to do that in the game whenever JD tried to block him from the lane.
"Look, you don't have the height to go against him straight on, but he's very aggressive so use your body and your athleticism to your advantage. You can make that shot all day long."
The other kid replied: "But that red headed guy sometimes tries to double me from the outside."
"Good. If he tries that than lob the ball over to Joey who he's covering. Joey can set up for his jumper. I'll make sure he's looking for the pass."
During the next 30 minutes, while waiting for the game to end, Rocco seemed so intent on watching that he said little. I was a bit surprised since basketball was his least favorite sport.
Finally I poked him in the ribs and asked: "Hay Rocco, how come you're so interested in the game all of a sudden?"
Rocco looked up with a question mark on his face: "I'm not. I'm watching Teague. A while ago he was showing that little guy how to shoot over JD, and now that the sides have changed he's been showing the red headed kid how to use his height advantage. And I never realized just how good Teague really is. They've finally put all the worst players on his team and he's still winning. He's half a team all by himself.
"Well Teague's on Lincoln's varsity again this year and they are contending for first place. And Teague is breaking all kinds of school scoring records."
After the game broke up, Joey and Teague came over to where we were sitting. Joey greeted us and I asked him if he or Teague would be interested in a game of half-ball. Neither could get up any enthusiasm. Then Teague said something that got me a bit riled.
"Damn boy. That's just a little kid's game. A'course seein' as Rocco here can't seem to grow, maybe that's all he can do."
Surprisingly Rocco didn't seem the least bit upset. He just smiled and retorted: "So you're all grown up yourself now Teague? What are you doing after you graduate this year? Jade and I are both going to college."
"College? I'm not a book person. That's for guys who can't do nothin' else."
"You're smarter that that Teague. College is for anyone who wants some kind of career."
Teague seemed to pause a moment and I was surprised when he didn't just come out with another taunt. "Shit man, you need money to go to college."
"There are all kinds of scholarships out there. You're the best high school basketball player I've ever watched. And Philadelphia is a big basketball town. Heck, one of the big five I bet would throw a scholarship at you if you applied. Any scouts been around your school yet?"
"They's only looking for white players to play on their white teams. Don't want to play for no honky white school anyways."
"Then don't ever again spout off about being all for black people. You are a natural leader and I seen you even with that white kid today. You'd make a great coach. Probably at whatever damn sport you want. How many colored coaches you ever seen Teague?"
Teague started getting hot: "That's just what I been sayin' white boy! It's all white people running things!"
"You are forever spouting off against white people. And keep saying you were going to help black people. So then what have you meant all these past years when you said that? And just how are you going to do it? Damn it Teague, BECOME that BLACK coach you`ve never seen!"
I thought Teague was going to pound Rocco into the ground yelling like that. I started edging between them. Joey even looked scared. He tried to say something but Teague brushed him aside. "You`re just another honky white trash telling a black guy what to do."
"No Teague, I'm just a friend who sees a lot of talent maybe going to waste. I've watched you. You're a natural leader. Stop complaining about things you can't change and do what you CAN do."
For the very first time ever I heard from Teague what I'd never heard before. An admission that he wasn't good at something. He sat down and mumbled: "But damn it Rocco you don't know everything like you think you do. I ain`t that good at schoolwork. I barely get C`s."
"How hard you been trying? Besides, you know what they call a guy who is at the bottom of his class and barely makes it out of med school?"
What the heck was Rocco talking about now? Teague just asked: "What? A dumb ass?"
Rocco smiled. "No. They call him 'doctor'."
Teague laughed and even started asking questions. He eventually admitted that scouts from both Villanova and Drexel HAD already been around.
Rocco eventually got down to particulars. "Look Teague, there's still another SAT at the end of January. And I think with a fee you can still sign up for it yet. I can't believe someone as competitive as you would turn down a chance at a sports scholarship. Damn, they even give them out for track too."
Teague was smiling at my White-boy. "Damn. Pop would blister a gut if I wound up going to some honky school instead of getting a job. Fuck. Let the old fart, fart his pants off. Moma will let me do this."
Teague wouldn't say anything more definite but I could tell he was thinking about things. And from some of the things he said, I think he was getting pressure from his school coach too.
We never did get to play half-ball. Jimmy wound up going somewhere with his Mom and somehow Rocco and I wound up at Joey's house. Where we got wrapped up in several games of backgammon. While Rocco and I were fighting out for the championship Joey picked up his Bible and opened it to a marked page.
Joey explained when Rocco looked a question at him: "Wednesday night -- Bible School night. I don't wanna not be prepared again. And Dad`s worse than Brother Gerald."
Rocco started looking over Joey's shoulder after he won the next game. "What part you reading?"
Joey smiled: "Parts of Mark Chapter 7, and Matthew Chapter 12. About some old farts complaining to Christ about Him not observing the Sabbath and all the dietary laws and who he sat down to eat with. It's all about how they were a bunch of hypocrites."
From the open doorway came a deep voice: "Joey. You'd probably best not use the expression `old farts' tonight in front of the Pastor or Brother Gerald or the class."
Joey looked bit scared until he saw his Dad was smiling. "Sure thing Dad. And you remember Rocco here don't you?"
"Glad to see you again son. And Joey, glad to see you preparing for this evening. You know what those passages are all about?"
"Sure Dad. That the law must be in our hearts. And not to be hypocrits." And Joey went on in this vein for a bit.
But I saw my White-boy getting restless. Probably board. Was I surprised when Joey's father suddenly asked him: "You're Catholic aren't you? What do you have to say about this?"
Rocco looked up without the slightest hesitation. "What Joey said is good, but I think there's something here even more important." Rocco took Joey's Bible and continued: "Christ says here: 'If you had known what this means I desire mercy not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless.' " Rocco looked back to Joey's father. "This is just one more time where Christ is showing that we can be free of the law as presented by Judaism, or any religion for that matter. And this freedom comes through Christ who teaches that our lives should be ruled by love, not man made laws. I'm not exactly sure where, and I can't quote passages, but its also all through Romans and Galatians."
Mr. Whittenger looked a bit surprised. "That what your church teaches?"
"Well, the Catholic Church is just as bad trying to put their own words in Christ's mouth by making up all their own laws. What I said is what I believe Christ is teaching."
Joey looked at Rocco in surprise. "You criticizin' your own church?"
"Well Jade and I have been going to a different church now. The Unitarian Church over on Rhawn Street. You`re a lot freer over there."Mr. Whittenger had the final say: "Well, we put the Bible back into its proper place. That's what our church teaches."
On our way back home later that day I asked what was happening to my White-boy all of a sudden.
"Not sure Jade. But maybe I'm just trying to think for myself."
"And White-boy. When did you learn about all that stuff today?"
"Mostly today reading over Joey's shoulder." Rocco gave me a big smile. "And Reverand Burrowes gave a sermon on those parts of Romans and Galatians a couple weeks ago."
"Well, I think you really surprised Mr. Whittenger. And Joey too."
"Look Jade. I know Joey and his Dad are good people and all, but their church seems to do the same thing a lot of the others do. They first decide what THEY believe is right, and then use the Bible to prove it. Heck, the church they belong to split right in half last century when the two parts disagreed about slavery. Hell, I bet most Southern Baptists Churches today wouldn't let a colored person through their doors. I don`t think that`s what Christ had in mind."
I started chuckling remembering something my Mama said. And I told Rocco. "My Mama once said that if you put three Baptists together you get four opinions."
Two and a half weeks later we were in Rocco's room for a change. This father and brother were away on some Order of the Arrow thing. And of course Rocco had even been using his brother's Ham Radio stuff earlier. He had even disconnected the VFO and plugged in a crystal for somewhere in the 20 meters band so he could get more distance. And even I got interested when he started talking to someone who apparently lived in Alaska in the middle of nowhere. The guy said he was a mining engineer for some gold and copper mine called the Medfra Strandberg Mine. As he put it: "I don't actually live at the edge of the world but you can see it from here." He said you could also see Mt. McKinley about 90 miles away in the opposite direction. I guessed Medfra was the closest town -- population 32! And wow, he said it was 7 a.m. in the morning and 35 degrees -- below zero! The guy was getting ready to go down into the mine where it was "a hell of a lot warmer."
After they were done talking Rocco realized he never got the guy's name. He looked it up in this big book which had people listed by their call letters. His name was Martin Jasper.
"You are supposed to log your calls." I remarked. Rocco looked at me like I'd just told him to put his hand into 35 below zero water.
"Sure. Just to make sure my brother could then PROVE that I'd used his equipment."
We had then left to fix some TV which turned out to be quite a bit more than routine. A small capacitor was squeezed next to a big resistor and we guessed the heat finally zapped the capacitor. A ten cent capacitor caused us a 45 minute hunt! When we finally got back to his house we had to wait outside for a while so all the lunch stuff could be put away. His sisters had been having peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. By the time we got to his room Rocco was complaining about everything.
"OK Rocco," I finally remarked, "this is definitely NOT like you. You should be concentrating on just being happy. We have just finished up our end of term exams, and we both did well."
I thought Rocco was finally out of his mood but then he started fuming about the Religion final. What I said about finals must have fired up a circut.
"I know why you're ranting." I said. "Price beat you out for number one in the class."
The school used the First Semester grades of the Senior year to determine final class standing.
Rocco finally stopped ranting. "I guess you're right. That had me in the dumps a bit. I had worked so hard and he barely beat me out. But he deserves it too. . . . And blast, I got A's on all his tests. I didn't get an A because the teacher hates me."
Rocco's apparent non-sequitor was about Religion Class again. I could see where this was going. His grade -- the only B on his last report card. I replied: "Of course it couldn't have had anything to do with all the assignments you turned in where you kept saying how the book was wrong on everything?"
"Exactly! Aren't we allowed to think for ourselves?"
Rocco and I had argued this stuff on numerous occasions. Father Irons was strictly a "regurgitate exactly what I have given you" type of teacher. So that's all I did. I thought Catholics were weird teaching an entire course on ethics and never even using the Bible. Rocco hated all this Natural Law stuff but refuses to admit the REAL reason -- it would condemn he and I being married. I have to admit I agree with him on a lot of this stuff but why get so worked up?
"So what? You know as well as I whatever you say can't do you any good."
Rocco looked up and smiled. "Oh yes it does. It makes me feel better. I like ranting and raving."
"So you're taking it out on me?"
"That's why I keep you around." He smiled again, knowing I was around for at least a few other reasons. "And how can you just take all this stuff and even more without hardly a complaint? I can't do that."
"OK, White-boy, what else has got you so upset? And good thing you are not taking your English Final."
"What I really wanted to do, was to answer the questions in our Religion Final like I really believed. And I wonder just what's so `natural' about the Natural Law, if nobody really comes to the same `natural' conclusions about things? Not much of it seems so natural to me." Rocco's been on a tirade lately about this.
"Look, it's me that should be complaining. I'm not even Catholic. Look at the bright side. The final was pretty easy."
But he was on a tear and barely heard me. "And they get so sanctimonious about it all. How can they be so sure of themselves when they've been so wrong about so many important things throughout the centuries?"
I heard some of this before. I heard a lot of this before.
There was no stopping Rocco now: "For over a thousand years, charging interest on a loan was considered a grave sin and against the natural law. The same with democracy. Even through the last century the Church opposed democracy and the evils of political, economic, and worst of all, religious freedom. In fact the Church is STILL opposed to the idea of religious freedom. Crud, even our last Pope said that governments do not have the right to usurp the authority of the Church in determining right and wrong. That morality can't be decided by a vote.* Totally misses the whole point of what democracy is all about."
[ * See: The Major Addresses of Pius XII, V. Yzermans ed, 1961]
That last I hadn't heard! "Where the heck did you get all this?" I was surprised as much as I was skeptical.
"Some I got from the commentary on that encyclical I read about last year, but most of it I got from a copy of a paper Dan wrote for his Political Science Class. Not only was slavery condoned by the church, it was encouraged at times." He got some papers out of his top drawer. He continued: "Here, listen to what Dan wrote:
In the 15th century, the reigning pope told the rulers of Spain and Portugal 'to invade, conquer and enslave' the people in lands where the people were not Christians. And as late as 1866, the Pope Gregory XVI stated that 'Slavery itself is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law. . .' "
Now I was startled: "Holy smoke, that was even after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation." I was interested, but I found it surprising how really emotional and upset Rocco was about all this. I added: "Ok, White-boy. I'll just let you get it out of your system. Go right ahead."
"Well, according to what Dan found out for this paper, all the Catholic bishops in the southern US, kept saying that the Bible approved of slavery." And Rocco grabbed a hold of me and added: "Well, it's you who should be the one to get up in arms. Slavery was OK for centuries. A number of popes even owned slaves! And Thomas Aquinas, the person that practically invented the Church's theory of natural law, wrote hundreds of pages describing different categories of `malum' or sin but never once included slavery or enslavement. Of course he agreed that heretics could be executed."
"But they don't teach that now."
"No. But considering how wrong they've been on some of this for so long, how can we be so sure about the stuff they teach today?"
Rocco and I discussed this some more and eventually he stopped being so emotional about it and we even got into the subject of what different churches taught about things that were really important to us. Especially the sex stuff.
Rocco then commented: "I like the idea of our new Church much better. Let's talk about Christ and his message of love. Let's stop being so hung up on all the fine tooth combing about sins, and concentrate on love, and being kind, and helping one another, and eliminating suffering. And all that kind of thing. Heck, my old church makes a virtue of suffering. Most of `em are all for it so long it's someone else doing it." Rocco got a little wound up again. "And I even had a thought the other day. How about we start our own Church just for gay boys like us?"
Now THIS was something ENTIRELY new! Where's he get all these way-out ideas? "That's a good one White-boy. You going to write your own new addition to the bible like the Mormon's did?"
The expression I saw on Rocco's face made me wonder.
The following day was much warmer and Rocco and I took Tim and his friend Billy to the park. Rocco was apparently back to his more usual cheerful self. We had a great time, even if Tim fell into the icy creek and had to be hurried home to get warm again, (and a bath).
Man-made falls for old grist mill near bridge over Frankford Avenue. (Recently dismantled)
That evening at my place Rocco and I started on a new assignment for our English class. In the middle of it he stopped writing and got that see-through-you type stare. I wondered what he was conjuring up now.
"You know Jade, I've been thinking. Since natural and divine law says slavery's OK, I think I'm gonna make you MY slave. Everybody knows that Negroes are inferior and need strong guidance."
"OK, White-boy, but the way I remember us together for these past years, I've been your slave all along. You keep telling me what WE should do, and expect me to go along with everything."
Rocco was smiling: "Great, now here're some new instructions. It has to do with you first removing your shirt and then we'll undo your hooks so I can see just what kind of slave I got."
I started enjoying my continued servitude. And got to like it more as I got more orders. Of course, as usual, as soon as we got really revved up, Rocco went passive on me and I "had my way with him." And I was the one then giving orders.
A couple of weeks after that with the first weekend of February coming up, we still had no immediate `word' yet from the Merit Scholarship Committee, and Rocco was driving me absolutely bonkers. That was the reason, I kept telling myself, for going along with Rocco as he had set in motion the boldest scam of his entire finagling career. Of course I have to admit I was just as complicit as my White-boy. (And later I would admit to myself that I had gone along with it in a moment of monumental horniness).
The plan all hinged on his Mom not realizing that Twain's uncle and Allen, as in Allen and Dan, were the same person. It also hinged on the fact that his own Dad had a very high regard for Mr. Alexander and trusted his judgment. And it also hinged on the fact that in spite of Jimmy knowing that I was also part of the weekend's plans and thus obviously Mr. Alexander would find this out, that Mr. Alexander would have no reason to communicate this fact to Rocco's Dad.
The plan was instantly inspired inside the fertile `finagle lobe' of Rocco's brain during a conversation some of us had at school that week.