My Life at Age Fifteen

In the summer that I turned fifteen, other boys started eleven fights with me. I looked like an easy mark, and various boys decided to attack me physically. One bully, who lived across the street from Christ the King School and who went on to become a Seattle Police officer, ran up and grabbed me as I rode my bicycle past the parish rectory. I had heavy boots on, and I was able to fend him off by slamming my boots down his calves to push him away, but he kept me from getting back on my bicycle. Father Joseph Ernie came out from the rectory and made us boys stop fighting. That same boy attacked my older brother Larry walking somewhere with a girl. Another bully accosted me and my friend (codename) Darmgut and said that he wanted to fight me. Darmgut said, "Why don't you fight me instead?" but the kid backed off. In all my other summers I got into no fights at all.

In my sophomore year at Blanchet High School I took Latin Two from Father David E. White and we studied Caesar's Gallic War. My friends were switching from Latin to German, so I bought the German textbook and learned German on my own.

I was something of a Merry Prankster. In Sister Anna Maureen's ninth-grade biology class, when she announced to the class that we were going to watch some frog eggs hatch out and grow in a fish-bowl that she had at the back of the room, the next day I brought to school in a little bottle some tadpoles that I had already hatched out in a basin of water in our family's back yard. I slipped the live tadpoles into Sister Anna Maureen's fishbowl. Soon she discovered the swimming tadpoles and with a look of shock on her face she told the class that the frog eggs must have hatched really quickly. I had been reading too much Mad Magazine.

I had some trouble with another kid in home room in my sophomore year. He sat directly behind me and he took a strong dislike to my studious ways. He was an athletic jock, and I was just a wimpy kid to his super-masculine eyes. One day he told me that he and I were going to have a fight out in the quadrangle during lunch-time, and that I had better show up and show him how good a fighter I could be. I had no desire to be beat up by the belligerent jock, and so during lunch I went into the library instead of out into the quadrangle. Somehow Dan the Bully tracked me down in the library, and he found me hiding in the stacks and he said he was going to hit me just one time, and then the fight would be over. When he hit me on the shoulder, I went wild with rage, and I rained blows down upon him. He put up his arms and backed away and tried to ward off my blows. He moved out of the stacks with me in flailing pursuit. The librarian, Sister Geraldine, came over and told us both to go to the school office, so we did. When I had to explain myself to Father Mallahan, I described exactly how Dan had insisted on fighting me and had slugged me in the library. Dan was not invited to come back to Blanchet the next year, but meanwhile in home room he tried to be my best buddy, drawing cartoons for me and handing them to me over my shoulder.

In that same year I walked into the boys' bathroom on the second floor of Blanchet High School and I saw something on the large mirror that should not be there. Some girl had taken down an angry note from Sister Mary of the Angels from a mirror in the girls' bathroom and the note had been defaced and now some one had taped it up in the boys' bathroom. I thought to myself, "This does not belong here." I took down the vandalized note and then I noticed that some opportunities for further parody and mockery had been passed over. Just for my own private satisfaction, I changed "This bathroom is a disgrace!" to "This bathroom is a blessing!" or something like that. I crossed out, "Sister Mary of the Angels" and I wrote "Sister Mary of the Devils." I was just doodling. When I saw no further emendations to be made to the document, I folded it up and put it in my front shirt pocket, with a plan to take it home and burn it in the fireplace. But then in biology class, just for fun, I took it out and showed it to Jim H., a kid across the aisle from me. He said, "Let me see that," and he took it from me and he walked away somewhere. When he came back, I said, "Where's the note?" and Jim H. said, "Aw, forget about it," so like a fool, I trusted him.

A few days later, one of the "in" kids in the sophomore class, part of the ruling cabal from the student government, approached me in the hall and told me that the vice-principal and school disciplinarian, Father James Mallahan, was going to be asking to have a talk with me. I said, "What about?" and he said, "You'll see. You had better go talk to him." I decided to just wait and see what was going on. About five days later, I received a summons to report to the school office, where I was then told to take a seat and wait for Father Mallahan, who liked to make students sit there by the front door in a kind of public shaming. Sister Geraldine saw me there and said, "Are you in Dutch again?" After an hour or two, Father Mallahan came in and told me to follow him into his office.

On his desk Father Mallahan had the note face-up and he said to me, "Do you know anthing about this?" I stepped over to the note and I said, "I wrote this" and "I wrote that," pointing to my own innocent doodlings on the note. The other defacements by persons unknown had been rather vulgar with foul language. I did not lie to Father Mallahan and I completely owned up to my schoolboy doodlings, which I had been planning to burn up in the family fireplace. Father Mallahan said something like, this is a major breach of discipline, to which I replied, "Supposedly." "Supposedly?" he bellowed, "Most certainly!" I did not have the presence of mind to tell Father Mallahan that Blanchet High School should be thanking me, not blaming me, because I had removed from the bathroom a vulgarly modified note that did not belong there. Sure, I had doodled on it, but not with any animosity towards Sister Mary of the Angels, whom I did not even know. But Father Mallahan was ruthless in his quest to find the perpetrators. He proceeded to tell me that I would be physically disciplined down in the boiler room and that I would receive a "D" in Conduct on my report card for the quarter. There was no discussion of who (i.e., Jim H.) had put the defaced note up on the back wall of Sister Anna Maureen's classroom, and of who had fingered me as some kind of guilty party.

Some days later, I received another summons to report to Father Mallahan, who took me down to the boiler room. He had nice-guy Father Stanton Boyle with him as a witness. Father Mallahan said that he was going to give me ten or fifteen lashes with his belt, and I was to count out each lash as he whipped me as hard as he could. Since I was already accustomed to belt-whippings from my own father, it was no big deal to me. But when Father Mallahan took off his belt, his enormously massive stomach spilled down like a mountain landslide, and I scrunched up my mouth into a "Yeww, disgusting!" grimace and I moved my eyes from the obscene spectacle upwards to look directly into the eyes of Father Mallahan, who was now burning with anger at me. He walked me over to Mr. Fleury's workbench, and he told me to remove any metallic objects from my back pockets. I furtively removed the flattened copper pennies that I had laid on the railroad tracks down at Carkeek Park. Then Father Mallahan in his rage and fury started whipping my bent-over body with his large black belt. He had said that he might stop at ten lashes, but he kept going all the way to fifteen. When he was done, he told me to go back to class. I inspected my rear end in the bathroom, and there were enormous red welts all across my upper buttocks. I told some classmate in the hallway that I had just received fifteen lashes from Father Mallahan in the boiler room, and he accused me of lying. I turned down the edge of my trousers to show the bright red skin, and then he started to believe me. But when the end of the quarter came, there was no "D" for Conduct on my report card. Maybe nice-guy Father Boyle did some investigating and maybe they found out that Jim Hermann, not me, was the one at fault. I never found out.

Meanwhile I was teaching myself German by working my way through the exercises in the German One textbook that my friends were using in their German class at Blanchet High School. At home we had a recording of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, with a choral movement of Schiller's "Ode to Joy" sung in German by a huge chorus. A little booklet in the box with the long-play records showed me the German words of "An die Freude" by Schiller, and I began studying the German words while I played Beethoven's Ninth. Soon I had learned the English meaning of each German word, and I played the records so many dozens or hundreds of times that I knew the "Ode to Joy" by heart in German. On many days in a row, I would shut the French doors to the living room, play the Ninth Symphony all the way through once or twice, and sit there with my eyes closed, listening to Beethoven. I was completely won over by Beethoven's music, and I would often listen to his third, fifth, sixth, seventh and ninth symphonies. On TV there was a serial show that I watched with fascination about Beethoven and his nobleman patron. Beethoven became to me the most fascinating person in human history. I cut out a picture of Beethoven from a magazine and inserted it into one of the plastic photo-holders inside my wallet. A year or two later, when the "Peanuts" cartoon had a cartoon panel of Lucy going through Schroeder's wallet and finding a picture of Beethoven, I saw nothing strange about it. Lucy said, "Beethoven? Who in the world carries a picture of Beethoven in their wallet?" I did. I went and got my own wallet and I examined the majestic picture of Ludwig van Beethoven and I thought to myself, is there something weird about carrying a picture of Beethoven around in your wallet? Why, just today, I was reading the Welcome Edition of the UW Daily newspaper for students, and on page 4 of the "History" section there was an article by Maxwell Eberle with an illustration by Laura Keil showing a statue of Beethoven on the front of the main campus library. I went and looked up towards the statue, but at a distance it looked no different from the other seventeen "terra-cotta intellectuals."

Over the years I watched many movies purporting to show the life of Beethoven, such as "Unsterbliche Geliebte" ("Immortal Beloved") and, just a few months ago, "Copying Beethoven" -- which was really good. Every year on December 16th I solemnly celebrate Beethoven's birthday. I wish that I could have been with Beethoven and Schindler at coffee houses in old Vienna. One of my favorite moments in "Immortal Beloved" is when the interviewer finishes with Isabella Rosselini and says to her, "Then you must have been the Immortal Beloved?" and she looks at him and says, "No, I don't think so," and we learn that the movie is actually just getting started.

The movie "A Clockwork Orange', full of Beethoven's music, eventually had to be pulled from distribution in Great Britain, because people were acting out too much of the violence in the movie. The book and the movie had wonderful examples of Russian words turned into semi-English words.

When I got hired on as a German and Latin teacher at the Overlake School in Redmond WA USA, one of the other teachers tried to test me by asking me something about a few words in German from the poetry by Schiller in Beethoven's Ninth. Then the poor guy had to listen to me recite the entire "Ode to Joy" in German.

Years later, in my Vaierre apartment, I was asleep and dreaming while KING-FM was softly playing music on my clock radio one foot away from my ears. In the dream, I decided that I was no longer alive, that I must have died, because I was hearing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in my dream, but somebody had changed the unchangeable. It was not the normal Beethoven's Ninth, it was radically altered and transmogrified. I was certain that Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was immortally unchangeable, so in my dream I figured that I must have gone on to some kind of afterlife. Then I woke up and the announcer on KING FM said that we had just been hearing "The Mind of the Universe" by the Japanese composer Tomiko. He had dared to change Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

Down the hall from my Vaierre apartment there lived "Lump," a registered nurse (R.N.) whose parents gave her that nickname when she was a baby. It is not a good codename for one of the most beautiful women I have ever known. She accosted me one October day when I was putting my key into the front door of the apartment building, and she asked me if I could tell her a few things about these apartments. So I did, and then I figured that she moved in somewhere else. A week later, I casually asked the apartment manager if she had decided against moving in, and he said, "Oh, no. She's here. She's in apartment 208," and she was there for four or five years. She and I had many adventures together, in Seattle, up in the Cascade mountains, down in Puyallup and up in the San Juan Islands near Canada. One day she told me that I could bring my Beethoven discs over and play Beethoven on the stereo system in her living room. As she stood ten feet away brushing her long brown hair in the bedroom, she stared curiously down at me lying on the floor in the living room and listening to Beethoven's Emperor Concerto playing loudly on her magnificient stereo system. She thought I was strange. I grew accustomed to her face, and at her wedding in the Stimson-Green Mansion I kissed her -- the one and only time, and the first time that I had done something like that since I was in Husky Hollow with Second Love.

Return to top or to other years in
the Mentifex Autobiography at age:
01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 07, 08, 09, 10,
11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20,
21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30,
31, 32, 33

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