Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Monk

Back in 1979, near the end of the 11th Grade, something occurred that made me a bit of a legend at my high school.

First, some background: St. Pius X was a catholic high school in suburban Ottawa, and grades 11 to 13 were not funded by the Ontario government, though grades 9 and 10 were. That meant tuition. Nothing major…something like $500 a year. Since the senior grades were considered private, the school was not as accountable to the province with regards to the quality of their teaching staff. That brings us to Sister Ethel Snetsinger. Now, this woman was destined to be a nun upon being burdened with such an unfortunate name. She looked like her name and if you could picture an “Ethel Snetsinger” you would picture her.

I didn’t dislike her, nor had she a personality that would make anyone dislike her. She was sweet-tempered, but daft. For instance, she would mis-pronounce “gigantic” by making the second-g a soft one (ji-jan-tic).

She reminded me a lot of the rich woman who was cluelessly the butt of the Marx brothers’ jokes. Once, during a discussion of guilds and apprenticeships, someone acted confused and posed this scenario: “If you are…oh, I don’t, a baiter of hooks, and you join the guild, you start off as an apprentice baiter, and then what?” She responded, walking right into the joke with “After several months you become a journeyman baiter, and then, after several years of study and work, you would become a Master baiter.” Seriously, she said that and had a quizzical look on her face when the class erupted in laughter.

In grade 11, I had her for my home room and Ancient History, the first class of the day. Throughout the school year, she would call me Brian, and my friend Brian, she would call Steve. Typically, the half-hour after home room/first class was to be spent in either a daily mass in the school’s chapel, or in study, which meant you stayed in the classroom and did homework, read, etc. In early March of 1979 we were on the topic of monasteries, and how they became the foundations of universities.

On the way home one afternoon, my friends and I had to walk around a pile of garbage bags left out for the next day’s pickup. I noticed a doll sticking out the pile and pulled it out. It was a monk, complete with the Friar Tuck hairdo and cloth robes. I noticed that the head moved, and when I pushed down on it, this huge penis pivoted up through the robes. We all had a great laugh and I put it in my backpack. The next morning, we actually found the box: The Monk with “rising” action.

When I got to class, she wasn’t there yet, and I put the doll on a table beside her desk. Other than my two friends, I didn’t think anyone saw me put it there. Mike was in my home room, but Gary reluctantly had to go to his own class, one floor down. The classroom filled up and first period began. Sister Snetsinger walked in with some sheets and began handing them out, not noticing the monk. About half way through class, as we were all busy with individual work, she finally saw the Monk and picked it up. I began to laugh, which hurt because I was trying to hold it in. She looked at it and asked if anyone knew where this came from, and she commented on how appropriate it was given our current topic.

For the rest of Ancient History, she would periodically pick it up and examine it, but nothing more. When Mass/Study came, most of the class stayed, which is rare. I knew then that something was up and that word of the Monk must have spread. I could see Gary out in the hallway sticking his head around the door to the classroom, until he was caught lingering by a passing teacher. Again and again, throughout study she would pick it up. By this point I was in tears, trying hard not to laugh out loud. Then the bell for the next class rang and we were off.

My second last class of the day was just down the hall, and, as usual, I sat at the back near the open door. Right in the middle of class, there was a loud shriek from down Sister Snetsinger’s classroom, and the sound of students laughing. Something had happened, and I had missed it.

Coincidentally, my last class was in Sister Snetsinger’s room, and I asked the teacher, Ms. Kennedy, if she knew what the scream was all about. She looked up at me through her strange glasses with a knowing half-smile and said she didn’t know.

That was it. Never heard anything more about it. Then, that summer, when I was working up at camp, my mother phoned and told me that during the break in the summer (mid-July) when I was back home, we would have to go to the school to meet the guidance counsellor and vice-principal. Apparently, all my tuition cheques had been returned and I would have to go to the school to discuss the situation. I, honestly, did not even think about the Monk incident.

My parents and I went to the school and were told that it was because I had supposedly asked a provincial school inspector how Sister Snetsinger had done during a surprise audit of her class. THAT was the reason they gave. Something I was not guilty of, which I proclaimed loudly. Nevertheless, Sister Snetsinger had heard me do this, had felt insulted, and for that they were expelling me. Just then, she herself came into the office, looked at me and asked “Brian, what are you doing here.” She had been expecting “Steve” who was Brian. The counsellor and vice principal apologised and took the cheques back. I remember my father remarking that she had me in her class for a full school year, and she still didn’t know who I was.

On the way home, my parents could not figure out how that was an expellable offense. That’s when it hit me. They knew, without proof, about the monk but couldn’t pin it on me. I told my parents…my dad laughed and my mom did that mom-head-shaking thing.

Two years later, in grade 13, I went into the teacher’s lounge to get something and the monk was there on the desk. 3 years after that, I went back to the school to perform in different scenes from plays throughout the school’s 25 year history. Some of the performers were current students, and when they heard my name, asked me if I was the one who put the Monk in Sister Snetsinger’s classroom. In May 2008, on the school’s reunion website, someone posted the story about the Monk.