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Graduation Day

By Mark Flanigan · February 28th, 2012 · Exiled From Main Street
For Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

1. Once upon a time there was a bar on Second Street in Cincinnati called Flanagan’s Landing. There were 10 owners, none of whom were Irish, none of whom therefore were kin to me. But they longed to have an “Irish” bar because they were trying to compete with places like Caddy’s. Who could blame them? It made good business sense.  

2. Meanwhile, I was graduating from grade school from Our Lady of Lourdes. I was young, innocent and Catholic, whatever that meant.  

At the same time, my parents — a truck driver and a secretary — had been going through a terrible divorce. The two people that had conceived me were in such a place that they no longer recognized anyone involved, let alone our church. Thus, on the last day of grade school, as I was readying myself for my very last recess, I was instead told by my homeroom teacher, “Monsignor Tensing requests that you meet him inside the church.”

Now, I had been in this school for eight years and had been at times one of those kids that read from Scripture during Mass and the like. Regardless, I had never had a one-on-one with Monsignor Tensing — no one had, as far as I knew, except for Jesus.

Therefore, I didn’t know what to think as I made my way to him; only that I was missing out on my last recess — the last time I would wisely choose those blue and green skirts, choose hanging out with Shannon Klosterman and Peggy Ferguson and Becky Cross, over all those guys playing football or kickball.


Truly, I had no idea why the Monsignor wanted an audience with me. It wasn’t because I had forged my report card, was it? Was it true that he was omniscient, too?

I made my way across the street to the church. Entering it, I called out and soon discovered that I was alone. As a result, I walked down the aisle toward the cross hanging over the altar and genuflected.  

I had never had the opportunity to contemplate it alone, and here we were in the dark in the midst of all those lit candles on either side of us. I felt sorry for Jesus, as he seemed to be perpetually nailed to a cross, but at the same time, had he ever answered any of my prayers when I called out for him?  

Were my friends not squealing with laughter outside the school as I made my way toward him? What had I done to deserve this? Was my mother not drinking from a bottle wishing she were dead? Was my father not mining his own strange ways?

Still in search of the one guy that was supposedly close to God, the guy who had summoned me, I walked back to the sacristy — the area off to the side of the altar — almost on tiptoe. I stood there alone, until I heard the sudden sound of a toilet flushing. Then, the Monsignor appeared, his hands wet, a handkerchief being tossed between both.  

Afterward, the first thing he did was somewhat self-consciously take a stole off a nearby coat rack and wrap it around his neck.  

I thought this all quite strange, of course. I never would have guessed that the Monsignor needed to do such things.

3. He was perfect, as far as I knew, except for the fact that when he sang Mass he was tone deaf. Now he had snot hanging off of his nose, was impossibly holy, as he sat in the chair next to me explaining, “I’m afraid next week you cannot graduate in earnest because your family has been neglecting the basket on Sundays. You can still take part in the ceremony, but the book that holds your diploma will remain empty unless your family quickly makes amends.”

This coming from God, from a church with a crucified man as its main symbol, terrified me.  

All the same, he must have failed to realize that every Wednesday I found a way to put 50 cents in the basket in my little envelope with my little name on it without fail.  

4. “Tell me,” the Monsignor said that day, his knees brushing against mine in the darkness of the sacristy, “Your father’s pub, is it failing?”

CONTACT MARK FLANIGAN: letters@citybeat.com



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