From the moment that Father Lou asked me, at one of our post-Sunday mass family get-togethers, to do some odd jobs around the parish, I knew exactly how I was going to spend the money I would earn. For weeks I’d been excitedly eyeing an 8-track player at the family run True Value hardware store near the expressway…and now, Dana Kimmell willing, it would be mine. Dana Kimmell, for all those who are unusually uninspired, is the heroine of Friday the 13th Part 3. I look to her as a savior of some sorts. If Chris, her resilient yet emotionally awkward heroine, could survive the strain of judgmental friendships & the onslaught of an unstoppable killer, then I can endure the realities of existing in such an unglamorous, excitement-less town as East Randolph, NY.
To Illustrate – our town has no stoplights or movie theaters. There is no work out facility or any name brand department store, as well. But in seeming deference to the farmers and factory workers that comprised the bulk of its population, there are two hardware stores. McNally’s Hardware in the heart of town had been the local favorite for decades – its friendly, rumpled owner was always present there in a pair of faded gray bib overalls. He would wander among the never changing, dusky open-ended bins of nuts and bolts and practical tools, beaming whenever his assistance was requested. Famously always costumed in his downbeat attire of choice, he would pay cash for everything – keeping a wad of green tucked inside the front pocket of his never altering outfit. My dad loves to tell the story of how a shiny brute of a salesperson almost turned McNally away from purchasing a new vehicle – until he noticed the indentation of cash and realized the unaccomplished gent in front of him was actually going to pay in full…and not with a check. The shinier True Value was a newer addition to our manure strewn burg – appealing to younger families and the truckers who veered off the highway for food and supplies. And while McNally would have never dreamed of carrying frivolous accessories, rows of comic and colorful lawn ornaments greeted you when entered the bright confines of this rivaled counterpart. And there, on a table towards the front, sat the greatly reduced item of my fascination. No surprise there. It is 1983 and the era of the cassette Walkman. Bins of sale priced 8-track tapes reside in hidden corners of any department store that you wander into. While most of my contemporaries would have properly scoffed at this totally uncool, completely uninvestigated bounty, to me it seemed like a cornucopia of undiscovered music that I could commander on the cheap – if only I had the necessary equipment. I longed to dive into the riches of the titles that I had already purchased for seeming pennies – Cher and Greg Allman’s Two the Hard Way, the critically reviled recorded culmination of this famous duo’s short and combustible cohabitation, Joan Armatrading’s Show Some Emotion and the film soundtrack recordings to Grease and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – a perfect stew of funky, pre-teen sonic bedevilment. And now the time was at hand.
Finally the assigned day arrived. We don’t have many muggy days in our miniature municipality. Surrounded by shaded hills and rolling meadows, we are in the heart of ski country-and a good hour or two away from the moist atmospheres brought on by Lake Erie. But as I set out to clean out Lou’s garage and straighten out the parish lawn, it is bursting with warm heat. I walk down Main Street, the primary boulevard, past the Children’s Home, the town’s modest gas station, the high school and McNally’s Hardware. The winding strip also contains the rectory and St. Patrick’s Church, buildings that reside shoulder to shoulder, at one of its’ furthest tips. I arrive sweaty and Lou forces water on me. Like any 14-year-old, I would much prefer a glass of soda, even something of the generic variety, but that seems out of the question at this venture, especially considering his visibly parental concern over my well-being. So, I settle for the H20 and try to ingratiate myself to its restorative effects. When he is finally convinced that he has helped me avoid the degenerative effects of heat stroke, Lou gives me a cursory description of what he would like done. He then excuses himself for a nap, telling me to come wake him when I am through. He will drive me home. He decisively informs me, mama lion style, that am not walking back in this heat!
Labor-wise, it seems like I am through with the bulk of the chores before a half hour has even passed. Worrying that Lou will think I have rushed through things or that I perhaps have skipped over some important detail of the proceedings, I linger, moistly, over some minor activities – washing the windows of the garage, collecting the garbage strewn about the parking lot – I want it to appear that I have thoroughly committed myself to the tasks at hand.
Finally, it feels as if I can dawdle no longer and I enter the rectory through the kitchen door, make my way through the dimly lit living room and up the stairs to the bedroom. As I advance up the steps, it dawns on me how unusual this scenario is and a slow bead of fright starts to drip slowly into my consciousness. I am entering the bedroom of a man who has swiftly become like an uncle to me, a revered agent of god. In our simple familial theology there is not much difference between our local clergy and the president of the united states and something feels off about this. Perhaps, this is merely reality bursting forth, the oddness of his chosen vocation finally seeping through the walls of my budding sub consciousness. That spring I was shepherded together with a bunch of other teens to listen to a group of nuns talk about their lives, in the ever-springing hope that some of us would examine ourselves and perhaps, one day, join them in their calling. This career day for the sacramental arts seemed to misfire for all of us attending, though. We itched uncomfortably in our seats, mentally begging to be released from the unrelentingly suggested assault of such a life denying profession. For days afterward, I feared that, as they suggested, some spirit of devotion would overcome me and I would be compelled to join them on their religious journeys. Therefore, thoroughly embracing the muse of counter-activeness, I fearfully found myself masturbating every spare second that I could, sure that such willfully enforced horniness would turn sour any benevolent urges to pursue priesthood that suddenly might consume me. The fear of such entrapment still lingered with me that day – along with a tiny distrust, a worry for the strange path that could lead anyone, including our family’s beloved Father Lou, toward such a strict and solitary vocation. How sexless they must be.
Still, I enter his bedroom, rosy hued with the dimming afternoon sun. He lays crumpled on his right side, breathing heavily. Sheets and blankets are swirled around his heavy form, moving up and down to the sluggish atomic force of his jagged breathing.
“Father Lou,” I called out, hesitantly.
He stirs…wakes. Slowly rising and facing me, like a vine less Dick Durock emerging from the Swamp Thing‘s cinematic quagmire, he remains laying on his side – his torso arched towards me while his legs are still curled into the depths of his queen size mattress. He breaths deeply for a moment and takes me in, frozen in the doorway, unable to step further into what now feels like dangerous territory. He laughs lightly as he genre-hops, stylistically. Pouting his lips out now, like a heavily made-up nightclub chanteuse, he stretches out his lower leg, a rotund Marlene Dietrich lounging his body across some imaginary piano top. “Have you come to ravage me in my bed?” he sings out, girlishly.
The room shifts and I feel my body leave itself. It’s as if god himself has smacked me in the face. If anything, I was expecting him to brusquely rush me from his quarters…even thought I may have misunderstood his instructions and that he would scold me for invading his privacy…but not this. Seeing my shock, he rolls onto his back and wraps the blankets that have fallen away tightly around him. He laughs dismissively and tells me to meet him down in the kitchen. I should grab some licorice from the jar and a can of root beer from the fridge. Minutes later, he emerges into the bright light of the pantry – a check for me in one hand and his keys dangling from the fingers of the other.
He chatters, brightly, as he drives. I know that I will walk back this way later this afternoon. I will not be able to stop myself from collecting my bounty – I have 8 tracks to listen to, after all. I try to think of all the fun I will have tucked away in my room, my new toy spinning out sounds that I have waited months to hear. It is easier to concentrate on that hopeful future than to focus on what has just happened. It was a joke I tell myself, ignoring the salacious intent…the truth of perversion I had seen glinting in his eyes. It will, I assure myself, never happen again…
Note: (My first horror movie buddy was a priest named Lou Hendricks. Several years ago, Hendricks was named by the Western New York Catholic diocese as one of their most unrepentant predators in the ’70s and ’80s. Thus, I grew up watching monster movies with a monster – a man who was like an uncle to our family. Over the next few months, I will be sharing some of my stories from that period of time.)