Thursday, September 15, 2011

Catholic School Playgrounds

By Douglas Hackle

Back in the third grade, you transferred from the local public school system to St. Francis of Assisi Elementary. Your Dad had just landed a new, better-paying job. He and Mom had both attended private Catholic elementary schools and high schools, so naturally they thought you should do the same now that they could afford to pay for it.

There were many differences between your old public school and your new parochial one, most of them sucky. Those uncomfortable uniforms you had to wear. Mass every Wednesday. Religion class. That spooky-crazy nun teacher you had, Sister Mary Something-Or-Other. You seem to remember her floating around the school rather than walking, but perhaps that was just a trick of your early childhood memory.

But the thing you found strangest about your new school was the segregation of the playground at recess: girls on one side, boys on the other. There was even a long line of demarcation on the pavement--painted in bright, very visible white--to separate you and the other boys from the fairer sex. At your old school, you used to play with girls at recess all the time. You simply could not understand why the authorities at your new school deemed that behavior to somehow be inappropriate.

But the playground segregation did not stop there, did it? The boys’ and girls’ sides were both further subdivided into four racially based quadrants: black, white, Chinese, and Mexican. The Chinese quadrants, for example, were the designated play areas for all children of Asian or mixed Asian descent, not just Chinese. Similarly racist, the Mexican quadrants were reserved for all children of Latin American or mixed Latin American blood.

What’s more, each of the eight racially based sections was itself subdivided: ugly children on one side, good-looking children on the other. These areas were in turn split up between kids who were smart and kids who were stupid.

But the partitioning and bisecting did not end there, did it, Finnegan Pim?

For the smart/stupid sections were further subdivided between children with legs and children without legs. Moreover, those two groups were themselves splintered: children who were forced by their bat-shit crazy parents to constantly wear clown greasepaint, clown noses, and clown wigs were on one side, while children who were not subjected to that specific abuse played directly across from them.

So where did that put you, Mr. Pim? Just where were you required to play at recess?

You remember quite clearly, don’t you? You played in the 7-foot-by-7-foot patch of asphalt reserved for stupid, ugly, legless, “Chinese” (you’re actually a mutt-mix of Thai, Irish, and German stock) boys who were forced by their bat-shit crazy parents to perpetually look like circus clowns from the neck up.

That is where you and the two other boys in your class fitting the same description spent every recess of the third and fourth grades.

But in the middle of fifth grade, something happened. During recess, you and the two other stupid, ugly, legless, “Chinese” boys with clown heads were sitting in your wheelchairs in that cramped, uncomfortable little asphalt square, all three of you unable to stop playing bumper cars due to the severe confinement of the space. And God forbid you ever accidentally rolled a foot beyond the painted lines that marked off your section prior to the shrill tintinnabulation of the school bell that sounded to signal the end of recess, or else that Sister Mary Something-Or-Other was sure to come running out swinging that blood- and brain-stained ruler of hers.

Not talking to anyone in particular, just sort of thinking out loud, you happened to say, “I’m quite certain that St. Francis of Assisi Elementary would benefit considerably from the implementation of a new organizational structure specifically designed to engage teachers in shared, coordinated decision-making.”

As chance would have it, the principal of the school--another nun also named Sister Mary Something-Or-Other--was crossing the lot and happened to overhear your astute observation. As a consequence, your space on the playground was subdivided once more.

“Normal,” ugly, stupid, legless, clown-headed “Chinese” boys were set off to one side. Directly across from them played children who, in addition to possessing those same qualities (and despite their already established stupidity) were also by some miracle of God nothing less than Child Prodigy Catholic Elementary School Administrators. You, my friend, were the only student at St. Francis to be counted among the latter.

Now you were all by yourself, and you had even less space in which to roll your wheelchair around at recess. But that didn’t matter. Because by the end of the week, once approval was obtained from your bat-shit crazy parents, you were placed on a handicap-friendly bus and driven across town to Holy Moses Elementary, a new parochial school that had just opened up within the diocese.

Based on your recently discovered abilities, you had been hired as the school’s new principal!

It was your first meeting with the school’s diocesan superintendent, committee chairs, other administrators, pastor, and staff of lay and nun teachers. You sat at the head of a long table to answer their questions. Everyone was excited to hear what your plans for the school were.

The first person to speak said, “Young Mr. Pim, welcome and congratulations on your new post. For starters, can you tell us how you intend to segregate the playground here at Holy Moses? Please be as specific as possible.”

“Of course,” you replied with confidence, adjusting your big red clown nose with a slight twist. “At the most general level of segmentation, the playground will be bisected into two large sectors: girls on one side, boys on the other. Both of these sectors will in turn be divided into four racially based quadrants: black, white, Chinese, and Mexican. Each of these racially based quadrants will be further divided between ugly children and good-looking children. These groups will in turn be . . . .”



Bio: Douglas Hackle writes fictions that are bizarre, darkly humorous, horrific, veiny, vainglorious, stupid or some combination thereof. His stories have [vein poppet] appeared in several online and print publications. Douglas resides in Northeast Ohio with his wife and little boy, and he’s not exactly sure how that blasted vein poppet be gettin' all up in his bio n' shit.

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