45. Hail Mary

(In the last installment of this blathering blog, a crack dealer in Chicago’s Cabrini-Greene neighborhood was holding a gun to the head of protagonist Eddie Trombone, who had inadvertently conceded that he was part of a conspiracy by the white power structure to begin distributing Prozac in the very same black neighborhoods where the white power structure had previously conspired to distribute crack cocaine, the introduction of this Prozac subsequently upsetting the business model of the gun-wielding street-level crack dealer, not to mention the crack dealer himself, who, when he cocked his gun at the very end of the last post, appeared ready to put a merciful end to this damnable blog by putting an end to the imbecile that wrote the manuscript being posted on it. Alas, this was not to be, and I could tell just by the way Mrs. Doyle came tottering towards me yesterday, the manuscript pages clutched between her stubby sausage-like fingers, her eyes appearing to jump about wildly behind her broad, thick glasses as she passed under the ceiling’s fluorescent lights, and something between a grin and a grimace playing in the shadow of her substantial proboscis. –Gerard K. Dirkins, U.S. Consular Officer)

I can recite the Lord’s Prayer or a Hail Mary at the drop of a hat, though nobody wears hats anymore, let alone drops them, and that may be one reason fewer and fewer people these days recite the Lord’s Prayer or a Hail Mary, another being the spread of rationalism, but when a crack dealer cocks the hammer on a gun he’s got pressed to the back of your head, and you’ve spent any time at all at a parochial school, you’ll soon find Ernie Banksyourself mumbling metaphysically, not this time because a nun caught you chewing gum but because a stranger is going to blow the back of your skull all over a city sidewalk, though you can thank the former for preparing you for the latter. Or thank the people at Topps baseball card company, or Ernie Banks, whose card you could never seem to get, so you bought package after package of baseball cards because you were still young and foolishly believed that the world was not conspiring against you, that somebody kind was watching over you, that good would triumph and you would eventually get Ernie’s card, but all you wound up with was a darker, less optimistic vision of the world and a pocketful of those brittle bubble gum communion wafers that came with the packages full of guys you never even heard of, with batting averages in the low 200s. Broken shards of lightly powdered pink bubble gum that you’d sneak into your mouth while Sister Agnes was up front whacking empty squares on a huge multiplication table with a big stick and calling out kids’ names.

multiplication table“Thirty-seven,” Danny Sullivan replied impossibly. And it wasn’t until just then, when you looked over at the spot Sister Agnes had been standing only a moment ago to see her reaction to bonehead Danny’s stupid answer, that you noticed she wasn’t there anymore. Without even a squeak from her soft-soled nun shoes, Sister Agnes had magically, instantaneously transported herself to a spot right behind you, and now, with one hand resting on the nape of your neck and the other holding a tissue in front of your mouth, was telling you to spit out your gum, drop and give her 20, whereupon you pushed the gum into the tissue, against the rock-hard palm of a 62-year-old bride of Christ, then slid soundlessly off a seat made smooth by generations of gum-chewing sinners, knelt beside your desk, and mumbled your way through 20 Hail Maries or Lord’s Prayers or some combination of both.

As a 4th grader at St. Gregory’s, I chewed enough gum so that I could recite a Hail Mary in 3.5 seconds, which came in handy when I heard the hammer being pulled back on the gun that was aimed directly at the very part of the brain that allowed me to say a Hail Mary in 3.5 seconds despite the fact that I hadn’t prayed even once since being invited to leave St. Gregory’s halfway through the 4th Grade, the barrel of a stubby .38 pointed directly at my reptilian brain stem, the ancient bit that helps people remember their phone numbers and gives snakes their sense of smell, the unclever part of that big gray blob that won’t let you forget that stupid 5th Dimension song Aquarius or the time you accidentally saw your best friend’s great grandfather without his pants on.

“Blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus,” I jabbered without putting any comma at all between the last two words, which is how all the fast-praying gum chewers said it back at St. Greg’s, so that it sounded like “womb-Jesus,” as if we were talking about a special type of Jesus, different from, for example, a pancreas-Jesus or lower back-Jesus.

“Oh my God!” the gun-wielding crack dealer said.

“Yeah, pretty fast, huh?”

When he didn’t answer, I turned around. He had dropped the gun, and was staring and pointing to a spot on the sidewalk between us. I didn’t get it at first. Didn’t look like anything special, just some cigarette butts, empty crack vials and . . . mother of God!

Yes, created by a supernatural force, using the everyday detritus of an inner city sidewalk, a perfectly formed image of the Virgin Mary.

The crack dealer dropped to his knees, and just as I was about to follow suit, a breeze that had come off Lake Michigan and fought its way inland a bit to Cabrini stirred the two crack vials that were in the center of Mary’s eyes, making them tremble and roll back and forth ever so slightly, towards the street then back towards me, towards the street then back towards me.

Then a stronger wind blew across the hand that clutched and held Mary’s cloak to her chest, turning the cigarette butt that was her forefinger back and forth so that the virgin mother seemed to be pointing over and over towards the street and away from the kneeling crack dealer.

I stood slack-jawed, watching these odd movements as they seemed to become more and more frantic in the ever strengthening breeze, until finally I heard a high-pitched voice in the rushing wind, “Run, you dummy! Before he picks up his gun and blows your head off.”

“Mary, mother of God!” I cried out to the image on the sidewalk. “Is that you?”

“The name’s Monique, honey,” a woman yelled from across the street.

I turned from the Madonna and found the source of the voice, which as it turns out was not the Virgin Mary, but this woman named Monique who I had never met before let alone prayed to. Nevertheless, I was thankful.

“Thank you Monique,” I yelled back over the traffic. “But where should I run?”

“Do you have any marketable skills?” she asked just as a noisy truck passed by.

“No, thank you,” I replied. “I’m hypoglycemic.”

There was that pause and confused expression I had grown accustomed to since grade school.

“Do you speak English?” she said really loud and slow.

“Yup,” I hollered, nodding my head enthusiastically.

“Well,” she shouted. “You’re white. Why don’t you go to Japan and teach English?”

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2 Responses to 45. Hail Mary

  1. Mark Renusch says:

    Very sound advice from Monique. As far as Ernie Banks goes, “Let’s play two.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. staff says:

    Nice guy, that Ernie. My cousin told me he’s working part-time at a one-hour photo developing shop on Western Avenue. My cousin told me that so that I’d cry.


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