THE WOLF MOON
The Wolf Moon last night, and it is well named, so bright reflecting on the glazed snow all around that I couldn't sleep.
Journal of a Solitude
You know what youth is? Confinement.
Take for example me, Lupo Ware, sixteen years young on this fine December afternoon, stuck in detention.
Youth is definitely confinement.
Father Quasimodo, maybe four feet tall in his black dress and elevator shoes, presides over this ceremony every day, five days a week. He teaches Religion when he isn’t being Dean of Discipline. Today is Friday if you can believe it. They call it “First Friday” around here—the first Friday of the month—and every First Fri they haul all of us into the gym for a Mass before dismissal. Everybody gets a holy card—one side a picture of some saint, the other side a prayer for the salvation of youth or something—and we line up in the hall and march into Mass like a regiment. About an hour ago, Quasi sees me chewing gum on line—that’s a cardinal sin in this place, almost as bad as keeping your hands in your pockets—so he calls out to me:
“Ware, get rid of the gum.”
Believe it or not, I wasn’t trying to be smart or anything, which, I have to admit, is unusual for me; I just took out the gum and rolled it up
in the holy card and the next thing I know Modo is leaping over the line of boys and smacking my face and giving me detention.
We’re supposed to be silent in here. If you get caught whispering to anyone, you get more detention. Sometimes we have to write a sentence in Latin about five hundred times in perfect penmanship. Last week we were writing, Omnia vincit amor, which is a laugh. Today, being Friday, Father Shrimp is letting us off easy: we’re allowed to do our weekend homework. Can you imagine doing homework on a Friday afternoon? This guy knows as much about youth as my mother, which is another story. Anyhow, I decided, instead of homework, to start this journal. Don’t ask me why. I like doing it with Father Crookback sitting a few feet in front of me reading from his little black prayerbook, his lips moving as he reads.
I usually only write poems, but I’ve been getting a little restless only writing poetry. Talk about confinement. Poetry is like trying to get the whole ocean into a tiny hole in the sand. It drives you nuts sometimes. I tried keeping a diary once when I was in the seventh grade, but gave it up. It turned into a Last Will and Testament, which is pretty ridiculous when you’re only twelve. My mother says I’m morbid. She’s got something there, I have to admit. My notebooks have drawings of people hanging from trees and gallows. I can’t draw worth a damn, but for some reason I like making these pictures of hanging men. It’s pretty ironic that my mother worries about me being morbid when she sends me to this Catholic school with bloody crucifixes hanging all over the place. It looks like Attila the Hun did the decorations.
As I was saying, I write poetry. Last year, I got my first poem published in the school literary magazine. The advisor, Father Mahon, is very cool. I had him for Freshman English. You could tell he hated it, and who could blame him. He’s got a Ph.D. from Cambridge University, in England, and still they stuck him into a freshman class full of morons. He thought my writing was all over the place, but still pretty good. Then I showed him some of my poems after class one day. He read them very quietly, then looked up at me without saying a word for a minute, like he was seeing me for the first time. Then he told me that there was a lot of emotion in the poems, and that with some work on the “form,“ I might be a decent writer some day. I nearly fell over when he said that.
And then last year he published one of my poems. Usually only juniors and seniors get their stuff published.
Quasimodo couldn’t believe it when he saw it. I love it that these pallbearers can’t figure me out. Just when they’re sure I’m nothing but a hoodlum, they find out I‘m also a poet!
Father Mahon thinks my work has “spiritual intensity“ and “rich imagery,” and you can’t argue with an expert.
The “spiritual intensity” is a little hard to explain, since I’m an atheist. (By the way, around here atheism is worse than having your hands in your pockets. I got smacked for disrespect. You can imagine what they’d do to me for atheism. Boiling oil or the rack; Spanish Inquisition stuff for sure.) The only guy I can talk to about it is Bernie (that’s what some of us call Father Mahon), but even Bernie gets a little nervous on the subject—maybe because he’s not exactly an orthodox priest, though he’s the most genuinely religious person I’ve ever met.
Anyhow, I’ve given up enough Catholic beliefs to qualify for excommunication. To begin with, I don’t think Jesus Christ was God, though he was a hell of a nice guy, and very spiritual. And I don’t believe that Catholics have a better chance of getting into heaven than Protestants and Jews. I hate the word “Christian“ when it's used like this: “Why don’t you behave in a Christian manner?“ Where does that leave the Jews I want to know? I hate exclusiveness—the idea that we belong to some restricted country club for Christian souls. What’s so great about behaving like a Christian? Hitler was a Christian.
The first big issue for me was authority. In elementary school, the nuns shoved “the authority of the Catholic Church“ down our throats. I couldn’t stand it. I just couldn’t see the value of swallowing somebody else’s ideas about how to live before you live yourself. I mean, you get born into the world to discover the world. You try to be good, but not just because of someone else’s laws. You have to discover your own laws.
Look at all the morons who’ve done horrible things because some maniac made some laws for them to follow. When Hitler ruled Germany, he said that Jews were impure and made laws to prove it. And the Germans obeyed.
Another thing. If the Church has so much authority, why doesn’t it use it when it should. To save lives, for example. Where was the Pope when they were killing millions of Jews? Hiding in the catacombs probably, silent as a prayer book, with all his authority scared right the hell out of him. What good is authority if you don’t have any courage?
The next big issue for me was sex.
I’ve had girlfriends since the first grade. I never had one of those periods that boys are supposed to have, when they hate the sight of girls. I’ve always loved the sight of girls, and the feel of girls, and the talk of girls.
The nuns were scared to death of sex. One time in the sixth grade, Sister Sarah, who was very weird, gave us a lecture. She said she had seen us skating down at Scarborough Pond, and that it was disgusting how the girls wore those “little skating skirts showing off their bumps and curves to the boys.” She said she had known a girl once who had done that, and one time some boys followed her into the woods “and gave it to her!” She went on to say that that was what was going to happen to the sixth-grade girls who wore those short skirts and she’d be glad because the girls would deserve it. Most of us didn’t know what she was talking about, but we were pretty upset anyway just from her voice, which sounded like she was going to break into flames any minute.
It didn’t take much to get Sister Sarah mad. And when she was mad, she was a riot. She’d place-kick her black bookbag clear across the room. When she wasn’t mad, she was sad. She used to cry in class telling us about her sister who was dying in the hospital and who was a saint because she was dying so “cheerfully.”
We also had this parish monsignor who was about ninety years old and senile. He was rich, too, and used to travel all over the world. He’d go off somewhere and then turn up out of the blue, muttering about the places he’d been. The nuns didn’t ever seem too pleased to have their lessons interrupted, but they never said a word in protest. They’d just nod and smile at him while he wandered around the classroom. He didn’t know any of us; he never called anybody by name. He’d just drift around with his eyes glazed over, talking to no one in particular. People thought he was brilliant, probably because nobody ever understood a word he said.
One time he barged into the classroom and went straight to the front. He looked into the distance beyond our heads, pulled the folds of his chin up out of his stiff collar, closed his eyes and said one word, very loudly: “SMUT!“ Then he shuffled out of the room.
Nobody knew what it meant, except maybe Sister Sarah, but we were sure it was something horrible, a disease we didn’t want to catch.
I guess you could say I caught it.
My father’s a big collector of Playboy magazine. He’s even got some of the earliest ones, from 1955 or something, when Hugh Hefner was only about eighteen years old and horny as hell. When I was maybe ten, I came across this pile of Playboys in my father’s dresser. I called my friend Chris and told him to come over, and together we went through about twenty magazines and two bags of jelly beans. We were like scientists examining data. I did a lot of imagining after that, and it wasn’t too long before I began to have some terrific dreams. You know what I mean.
Alice Pierce was my first real girlfriend and the beginning of a pretty weird time in my life which is still going on. Alice grew up on the next street over from me, and she was an ugly kid. We played together sometimes when we were small, but it was no great shakes. I don’t remember much about her from that time, except she had buck teeth that made her smile kind of funny—wide and toothy. She had bangs ever since she was born, and straight brown hair that was kind of mousy-colored. There was really nothing great-looking about her.
And then her family moved out of the neighborhood to a ritzy private street and we didn’t see much of each other for a few years. And then she called me up one day last June and invited me to a splash party at her country club.
Well, I said sure, why not? A lot of my friends were going and it sounded like a pretty good time. I’d never been to a private country club. I thought it might be interesting to see how the other half lives. You know.
Alice and her father, Ward Pierce, picked me up in their Lincoln Continental. My mother says that Mr. Pierce made a lot of money in advertising and that’s why they had to move to a better neighborhood. Mr. Pierce didn’t seem all that comfortable being back in the old neighborhood. He was very quiet on the way to the club, except for a few questions he asked me about my future. I had to keep from laughing at the sight of him behind the wheel. He’s a very little guy, and he was sitting on one of those pillows for people who are too small to drive a car.
And driving a Lincoln is like driving a house on wheels. His legs hardly reached the pedals.
He had this very proper voice, soft and thinned out. I could hardly hear him all the way in the back seat. It was a little like that scene in Citizen Kane when Kane and one of his wives have to shout to hear each other across their huge dining room. I kept saying: “I’m sorry Mr. Pierce, what did you say?”, which was very annoying. Alice kept turning around in the front seat and smiling that wide smile at me. You’d have thought her parents would have spent some of their bucks fixing her smile. There was something cute about it though.
I think Mr. Pierce was beginning to lose some of his composure, because he raised his voice, and I could see him frowning at me in the rear-view mirror. I was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable about the whole ordeal at this point, being grilled about my future by this nerd in the lime-green cardigan.
“Well now, tell me young man, where do you plan to attend college?” I hadn’t really thought much about college, but I told him:
“Well, Mr. Pierce, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to Georgetown. I think that might be the school for me.”
Alice turned around when I said this, smiling of course. Maybe old man Pierce went to Georgetown, I thought. (I found out later that he hadn’t even gone to college.) Anyhow, he seemed pleased, or at least less uncomfortable, and finally we got there.
The first thing Alice did at the club was show me how to find the boy's locker room. I didn’t see anybody I knew there, just a lot of blond- haired guys in racing suits looking at me like I was a Martian or something. They were swatting each other on the ass with rolled-up towels and being very uncool.
When I got to the pool, everybody was going nuts—jumping in and out of the water, screaming, doing cannonballs and A-bombs off the board. They had balloons strung up over the pool and a big sign that read, HAVE A BLAST! I kept looking all over for Alice, but she wasn’t around. I felt pretty uncomfortable, even though I had seen some of the guys I knew, and one or two girls. Most of the kids were strangers.
I was standing near the shallow end squinting toward the board when I spotted Alice. At first I wasn’t sure that it was Alice. But then I was. She didn’t see me at first; she was just standing there looking around, kind of shy.
My first thought was: what have I done to deserve this? She was wearing a gray, two-piece bathing suit in some kind of stretchy material, and she looked like a Playboy centerfold. God, what a body! She had these very round breasts and wide hips and narrow waist, and long legs with slim ankles. Even with her funny smile, there was something pretty about her standing there, getting splashed.
Whenever some water hit her suit, it darkened in that spot.
And then she did a beautiful thing. She dove into the pool and surfaced with water streaming down her face. She had this very serious look on when she came up. Then she swung back toward the board and snapped herself up over the side. When she stood up with her back to me I thought I was going to flip. The suit was wet and clingy and her rear was so round and firm and delicious-looking I couldn’t believe it!
I swam the distance to her under water, and came up with a big grin.
She smiled her beautiful smile.
“I was watching you dive,” I told her. “You looked great!" “Thanks,” she said. “I like to dive.”
“I like to swim underwater,” I said. “It’s nice and quiet down there.
No jerks running into you.” She didn’t say anything. “That’s a nice suit, Alice.“
She looked quickly down at her breasts and crossed her legs. She seemed a little uncomfortable.
“I just got it, for the party. It’s the first two-piece I’ve ever owned, at least since I was a kid. I didn’t show it to my parents. They’d have a cow if they saw it. Do you really like it?”
I had all I could do to keep from shouting how much I liked it. “Absolutely! It fits you great. Really. Why shouldn’t you wear a two-piece if you feel like it? You’re not a baby for godsakes!”
She smiled again, just for a second, and looked off to the other end of the pool. I pulled myself up over the edge and sat next to her.
“How do you like the club?” she asked me. I felt I could be honest with her.
“Do you really want to know?”
“Sure.” She had this serious look on her face again.
“Well,” I said, “I don’t much like clubs, any kind of club.” She looked a little hurt and I wanted to explain.
“Look,” I told her, “you’re supposed to be a big deal if you belong to a club. Clubs are a dumb way of making people feel important. I mean, what’s the big deal? A bunch of jerks doing everything together.
"Clubs are just a way of being snooty but very polite about it. And a way for people to check up on each other. Do you know what I mean?”
She didn’t say anything for a minute.
“If you feel that way,” she finally asked me, “why did you come to the party?“
“Well hell, Alice, I didn’t come to join , I came to swim and to see you.”
That seemed to be the right answer. Alice had these very pretty green eyes, and they were beginning to look very sincere. I love it when girls look at you with big sincere eyes.
“I don’t want you to feel hurt by what I said about clubs,” I told her. “It’s not your fault. Kids can’t help what their parents do. I mean, I’m sure it was your father who thought you ought to join after he’d made a pile of dough in the advertising racket.”
She cocked her head.
“You certainly like to get personal with someone,“ she said. I couldn’t tell if she liked it or if she was hurt again.
“Only with certain people,” I told her. “With people I like .“ I was getting a little romantic, I couldn’t help it.
Then she gave me a knowing look.
“You didn’t like me all that much when I lived on Clarence Road.” “Well, people change. I’ve changed a lot since then, and so have you.
You’ve changed a lot ,” I said, looking at her chest. I didn’t mean to do it. It just happened. She looked sad again.
“That doesn’t mean anything , Lupo. I hate it when boys stare at you like you’re a freak. I want someone to like me for who I am inside. You really don’t know anything about me, so don’t pretend you do.”
I was really sorry that I had looked at her chest just at that minute. I was feeling pretty good about being with her, but I knew it didn’t look that way. I figured she must have to put up with a lot of stupid remarks about her body. I decided to be honest with her.
“Alice, I didn’t mean to look at you that way. I mean, I really like looking at you, but that’s not all. I like talking to you, and I like being with you, even here. And it’s not true that I don’t know anything about you. I do. I know that you’re lonely, and that you don’t like your parents very much. Which is ok by me. I don’t like my parents very much either.“
Her face got red, but instead of saying something she just stood up and dove in and swam a pretty long way under water before coming up-- all the way to the shallow end. Then she started swimming back towards me. She was a very good swimmer, very graceful, and it was nice to watch her. When she reached my end she just turned and swam away again. I figured she must still be mad, and decided to leave her alone. Anyhow, it was easier to watch her than talk to her.
After about five laps she stopped in front of me and treaded water. Her hair was plastered to her forehead and over her ears, and her eyes were bright green, the color of the water. She looked great. I tried not to stare, but I couldn’t help sneaking a peek at her boobs bobbing up and down.
“How did you know that?” she asked.
“Beats me,” I said. “It’s just that when I like a girl, I can tell a lot about her. I’m sorry if you’re mad.”
“I’m not mad! What you said is true. Sometimes I hate my parents.
Hate them! They only care about themselves. And sometimes I am lonely. Especially here. I don’t have any friends here. It’s such a joke. My parents think everything’s terrific for me here. They think I’ve got friends here and that maybe I’ll finally stop bothering them with my sad face. My mother always says to me, ‘Alice, stop being so sad, your father doesn’t like it.’ And you know about my father! I was so embarrassed in the car. He’s always like that. He thinks he’s got to be so reserved! It makes me crazy!”
The angrier she got telling me this, the harder it was for her to stay afloat. I didn’t want her to drown right in front of me, so I held my hand out to her.
“Why don’t you grab hold and come up before you get waterlogged,” I told her.
She was still angry, but she took my hand and pulled herself up. She was strong, and it was nice to feel her grip.
She was sitting next to me dripping wet, with her head drooping down. She looked so pretty I wanted to kiss her right there, with all the idiots crashing into the pool around us. Instead, I put my hand over hers. She didn’t say or do anything. She kept looking down into the deep end. Finally, I decided to say something.
“Hey, Alice,” I said, “we’ve got the whole summer ahead of us. I think it could be a great summer. What do you think?“
Very slowly, she turned her head up to me. The sad look was beginning to turn into something else, kind of a half-smile or something. God, she was so pretty when she smiled. She had the smoothest skin I’d ever seen.
“Me too, Lupo. I think it will be great,” she said. And she moved her hand so that our fingers locked, and squeezed a little. Her lips were just hanging there, so soft-looking. I would’ve kissed her but some asshole A-bombed right next to us and got us soaked.