Tuesday, April 12, 2016

DAZED BY ZEPPELIN by Peter Nolan Smith

Everyone in the world has a phone. I can call Fenway's mom in Thailand and Mam will pick up the phone on the other side of the world. This advancement is a miracle, considering only twenty years ago phone service to foreign countries was a costly and timely expenditure. Now international connections are linked by communication satellites circling the globe to transmit billions of cellular calls and SMS messages to their distant destinations, yet this Sunday no one has called me at the Fort Greene Observatory.

And it was not the advent of the Zombie Apocalypse.

Planes and helicopters flew over Brooklyn and cars hummed along Lafayette Street, so I'm not Mada, Adam's dead end, but twelve hours have passed since my last spoken word. That stretch of silence is not a record. I have gone longer, since Sundays have been my traditional day of silence.

Back in the last century I lived in the East Village. My apartment was small, but comfortable. My Sundays were spent watching football or basketball, reading a book, luxuriating in the bath or all of the above. Every once in a while I'd check the phone to see there was a dial tone.

The phone was in perfect working order.

No one wanted to speak with me, until I started dating Ms. Carolina. She liked talking. I couldn't blame her. Ms. Carolina lived in a redneck community south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Some of her neighbors entertained funny thoughts about the intermingling of races and religions.

Early Sunday service at her husband's church lasted two and a half hours. Baptists wasted the entire morning in prayer. Her congregation was very advanced for the area. They believed blacks had a soul.

Around 11am the telephone rang and Ms. Carolina recounted the preacher's ranting sermon in accent. I didn't have to say a word.

She was originally form New Jersey. Her family was Old Yankee same as half mine. We had more than those genes in common. I knew her husband. He was a good man. Ms. Carolina spoke low and ended with the wish, "Good luck with your vow of silence."

Luck had nothing to do with my Sunday's silence, because my mouth was silted with the residue of Saturday night drunk.

Wordlessly I hung up the phone with my vow intact. My function was to listen to a woman's yearning. I was good at it.

As a junior in 1968 my girlfriend Kyla suggested that we spent the weekend on a spiritual retreat at a suburban monastery. The buxom cheerleader was feeling guilty about the sexual stirring.

"You sure this has nothing to do with your mother?" Kyla's mom was a devoted church goer same as mine.

"No, I feel something in my heart calling me to Jesus. I want you to feel it too."

"Okay." The weekend cost nothing and I was certain that the priests couldn't shake my lack of faith in God.

"I only want you to do this, because I love you."

Two weeks earlier Kyla had confessed to the parish priest that she and I had come close to sex.

Our pastor had convinced the 17 year-old cheerleader that our wanton behavior was Satan's work, even though dry-humping wasn't proscribed by the Bible.

"And I love you."

Kyla and I had never gone all the way. Our sex was blunted by her unwillingness to be naked. I respected her wishes. My hands were not so obedient.

"I want to be pure as snow." Her skin was whiter than baby powder.

"I'll do whatever you want."

I signed up for the retreat. Chuckie Manzi, feared losing me to the priesthood.

"They might drug you with LSD holy water."

"I'll be okay." I had been faking my belief in God since my best friend drowned in 1960.

My mother was ecstatic to hear of the weekend. Her uncle was an arch-bishop. She had been praying for one of her four sons to answer God's calling. She never thought it would be me and on Ascension Weekend a bus rolled down our street with Kyla and fifteen other couples. My mother kissed me on the cheek and said, "Open your heart."

"I'll do my best." I looked over her shoulder.

Chuckie was standing on the lawn. His eyes said good-bye forever and I got on the bus to sit next to Kyla. The bus pulled away from my house and we drove ten minutes to a wooded monastery underneath Big Blue Hill.

We were met by a priests and nuns; one for each couple.

"Purity is the one true love." The habited nun raised her hands with welcome.

"I know you are all virgins." The head priest was tall and bald. His smile beamed sanctity. "God knows you are pure and purity is the best way for young people to show your love for God and Jesus, so you are going to be separated by sex."

"All weekend?" I was holding Kyla's hand.

"Except for prayer meetings and Mass." A young priest with a guitar motioned for us to move apart.

The Nuns of Chastity escorted the girls from the monastery to a nunnery hidden by tall pines.

"See no evil." The Pastor led the boys inside a separate building. "Hear no evil."

I stifled a groan.

This was going to be a long weekend.

That evening we ate beef and mashed potatoes. The meal was followed by a lengthy prayer session in the basement. The girls were on one side of the room and the boys lolled the other, as we discussed our immortality of our souls and the temporal existence of our bodies and souls.

The head priest noticed my looking at Kyla.

"Saving her soul is more important than your desire. Do you understand that?"

"Yes, Father." I loved the girl with the green eyes more than physical pleasure or so I thought in that basement.

We hit the beds early. The lights went out at nine. I heard several boys masturbating under the blankets. Two of them went to the bathroom together. Without girls we left on our own.

The next morning started with Mass. I took Holy Communion for the first time in years and stuck the wafer in my pocket once I reached my pew. After the service we ate breakfast and the nuns led the girls to chapel. The boys sat under a tree with the guitar-playing priest.

The day was warm and the sky was free of clouds. The priest indoctrinated us with the ways of God. I couldn't stop thinking about Kyla. The priest strummed his guitar and said, "A woman will steal your precious fluids. Women were the handmaidens of Satan. Touch one outside of matrimony and you'll brut in Hell forever."

Some of the other boys confessed their sins of thought and deed. I wanted to run for the woods, but I wasn't leaving without Kyla. After dinner we listened to religious rock on the stereo. God was never far from us on this weekend.

That night I had spilled my seed twice. Other boys joined my one-handed prayer. Masturbation was our most holy sacrament.

On Sunday morning the priest and nuns celebrated the ancient mass and the head priest preached about the eternal satisfaction of serving the Church. The climax of the weekend was the grand one-on-one session with an older priest in the basement. He was the exorcist for the diocese.

"What do you have to say for yourself?" His eyes were practiced at searing into souls.

"My love for my girlfriend is untainted by penetration."

"But you have touched her?"

"Not the way you think?"

"Have you ever touched a man?"


"Have you ever thought about a naked man?"


"Are you asking everyone this, because the only other times I heard these questions were from drivers trying to pick me up hitchhiking. Do you do that? Isn't that a sin?"

"The Holy Trinity would absolved our trespasses." He put his hand on my thigh. I pushed it away, then heard an electric guitar blast from the stereo in the meeting room. The priest looked up. This music was not on the program and I recognized the guitarist as Jimmy Page from the Yardbirds.

"I gotta go." I ran upstairs to find Chuckie by the stereo.

"I just got this from the record shop in Mattapan Square." He held up the cover of the Hindenburg crashing in flames. "It's Led Zeppelin. You got to hear this."

Chuckie turned the stereo up to 10 for DAZED AND CONFUSED.

Bass and guitar.

High-pitched vocals and then the avalanche of drums.

6 minutes and 25 seconds later I went upstairs and packed my bag. Chuckie put on HOW MANY MORE TIMES and the rest of the boys joined my flight.

The priests tried to stop Chuckie from playing the album. He had a Boy Scout knife, which was sharp enough to fend off the soft palms of the Church. We stormed across the lawn to the nunnery. The girls had heard the music and were already to go. We walked to the road. Chuckie had somehow organized enough cars for escape. He was a good friend.

"I love that music." Kyla touched my hand.

"It is pretty cool." Her touch was nicer than that of the priest."

"Let's go to the beach." Chuckie shouted 'Nantasket' out the window.

It was a day fit for the gods.

None of us attended Mass after that weekend. We defied our parents' deity. Our Sundays were centered on breakfast at the local diner and I celebrated the Sabbath with simple words.

"Bacon and eggs over easy."

Kyla and I never went all the way. Led Zeppelin was a huge hit. My older brother and I saw them at the Newport Jazz Festival. Kyla and I broke up a week before the Senior Prom and she married a boy from our hometown. They made a good couple. She would never have been a groupie for Led Zeppelin.

My present vow of silence endured into the darkness of night. I didn't have to be anywhere until tomorrow, but felt like a beer in the company of others and there's no where better in Fort Greene to have a beer than Frank's Lounge with the lovely bartender, Rosa. She's a girl who doesn't like silence, then again most of girls like the sound of voices. It's part of their nature and no one knows that better than a man.



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