The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

Chris Fuhrman
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 200
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt46nmt3
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  • Book Info
    The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
    Book Description:

    Set in Savannah, Georgia, in the early 1970s, this is a novel of the anarchic joy of youth and encounters with the concerns of early adulthood. Francis Doyle, Tim Sullivan, and their three closest friends are altar boys at Blessed Heart Catholic Church and eighth-grade classmates at the parish school. They are also inveterate pranksters, artistic, and unimpressed by adult authority. When Sodom vs. Gomorrah '74, their collaborative comic book depicting Blessed Heart's nuns and priests gleefully breaking the seventh commandment, falls into the hands of the principal, the boys, certain that their parents will be informed, conspire to create an audacious diversion. Woven into the details of the boys' preparations for the stunt are touching, hilarious renderings of the school day routine and the initiatory rites of male adolescence, from the first serious kiss to the first serious hangover.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-3585-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Thirteen
    (pp. 1-8)

    By eighth grade, Jesus Christ had been bone meal and rumors for most of 1,974 years, but we were only thirteen. We were daredevils, gangsters. I had a girl’s name, Francis, and a hernia.

    School and church occurred right down everybody’s street at Blessed Heart, the two buildings joined at the shoulder by a glass bridge. My best friends, Tim and Rusty, were serving Mass that Sunday, kneeling on each side of the priest in their cassocks and wayward purple socks. I watched from the farthest pew, beside my mother. We’d been late again. To see the altar, I had...

  4. The Usual Gang of Idiots
    (pp. 9-25)

    Homeroom next morning smelled of cough drops. Nearly summer, nobody had a sore throat. But gum was forbidden. Cough drops were classroom candy. Even the nuns sucked them.

    Sister Ascension, the principal, lumbered in and whispered to our teacher, Sister Rosaria, who bobbed her head. Ascension called the names of our whole gang—Tim, Rusty, Wade, and me—along with her nephew, Joey O’Connor, and absolved us from classes to create a final drawing for the bulletin board in the hallway. The teachers knew our gang as artists more than outlaws.

    Ascension relayed us to the library, beside her office....

  5. A Discipline Problem
    (pp. 26-38)

    Every afternoon I walked my youngest brother home past Margie’s house. Today I poked, watching for her, stopped to loosen and retie my shoelaces, and stopped again to shift my pack to the other shoulder. Peter, my brother, wandered on ahead, glancing back suspiciously over the hump of his green bookbag.

    Margie’s house took up the corner. Like the other houses on Victory Drive, it featured a front porch that could swallow my whole living room. Mr. Flynn, her daddy, had a construction company and nine children.

    One of the Flynn boys was dribbling a basketball and whooshing it through...

  6. What Happened to God
    (pp. 39-49)

    We vaguely said the Lord’s Prayer and pledged allegiance to the flag, opened English books and raised hands and feared Sister Rosaria. Margie Flynn was in my head like a bad cold, blurring everything. It was a new kind of loneliness, a hurt I couldn’t stop picking at.

    I saw her brother Donny plastered into his latest broken arm, sowing thumbtacks into Joey O’Connor’s seat when Joey went up to collect his spelling test. Joey was fat. He sat down hard and wrenched up with five silvery disks stuck to his bottom. He plucked out each tack and dropped it...

  7. Where the Wild Things Are
    (pp. 50-61)

    The highway had marsh on each side now. Egrets snaked their necks down and plucked minnows and fiddler crabs out of a creek. The bus crossed the bridge toward Marshland Island, half wrapped in a fence that wound among oaks and pines. Our bus passed through the gate and rumbled down a dirt road.

    Mr. Thomas parked in a field between a rusty water tower and an old plantation house with brick wings added on. The effect was of a mansion with school buildings attached. Everywhere was green or striving toward green, and you smelled river mud and pine and...

  8. A Priest with a Girlfriend
    (pp. 62-72)

    Everybody brought chicken legs to Science class. Brown paper lavatory towels were spread on all the desktops. Mrs. Barnes sent Melissa Anderson around with a box of one-sided razor blades, and we took one each. We followed along with Mrs. Barnes, slicing skin into pink muscle and peeling away tendons and silky ligaments and splitting the bones to find the squishy marrow. The classroom smelled like my dad. My hands got greasy. Eight kids cut their fingers and Mrs. Barnes sent Melissa around with a tin of Band-Aids.

    In front of me, Donny Flynn used his razor to carve yet...

  9. Did You Think I Was Tame?
    (pp. 73-79)

    Prior to meeting Margie, I sat with my friends in Wade’s house and heard their advice and attempted to drink away my fear. I held my breath and gulped silvery watered gin, listening to Elton John on the stereo, garbled and straining in a likable way, above his heartbroken piano. The music grew lovelier with each swallow, though one speaker was blown so that the bass parts were fuzzy. The alcohol rolled over me like a warm breathable wave that edged everything with light and made my friends friendlier. The songs were melancholy, and we grew deliberately, pleasantly depressed.

    Wade’s...

  10. Southern Gothic
    (pp. 80-86)

    The next day must’ve happened, but I don’t remember it. Waiting and boredom don’t leave much to recall.

    A slight drizzle began that evening, and it grew cooler, and I was able to justify the denim jacket I used to hide a quart of beer and carry it out of Riner’s store. I drank it fast, with Margie, under the big magnolia in the park. We both still felt awkward, though. I suggested we sneak by my house and pick up some whiskey I had hidden.

    When we got to my block, I let go of her in case any...

  11. Precipitation and Anchovies
    (pp. 87-93)

    When I got to my yard I saw Tim hunched on the stone bench like a gnome, feet scissoring above the grass. I told him I had to go inside and get bitched out for being late. The street-lights had returned the familiar landscape, brought to mind the regular rules and punishments. My mouth was horribly dry, my clothes wet.

    “I wouldn’t grovel to my parents for a while,” Tim said. “I smell booze on your breath from here.” His hair strung over his eyes and ears, dripping water onto his Bogart-style trench coat.

    I sat down beside him, further...

  12. Shopping on a Budget
    (pp. 94-101)

    The next night, while I was attempting to go to sleep, my brothers talked to each other from their bunks. They laughed at something, and Daddy came up the stairs with a beer in his hand and turned the light on. He said we were there to sleep, and that if he heard another peep out of us he was coming back with the belt and give it to us all. Then he went back downstairs to the late show and my mother. I didn’t understand how he could’ve heard them unless he had the TV turned low and was...

  13. Rebels of the Blessed Heart
    (pp. 102-113)

    Father Kavanagh had cancelled his weekly hour of Religion with our class. I suspected it was because seeing “the artists” would bring to mind images from Sodom vs. Gomorrah ’74, in much the same way as I was afflicted by watching Margie’s brother Donny, sunken into the desk in front of mine, pulling at a scab on his neck.

    We’d been ordered to read silently. The Return of Tarzan was open on my desktop, but the pictures in my head were of Margie, Margie and me, Margie and Donny. I squirted a third layer of glue onto my left palm,...

  14. Pets
    (pp. 114-119)

    A day could be salvaged by something in the mail. A fat khaki envelope loomed out of the mailbox, and at first I thought Kavanagh had sent the awful comic book to my parents. But it was addressed to me, from TranScience Co. I ran upstairs with it, tore it open, spilling some kind of padding like minced newspaper.

    Inside, a cardboard panel showed a family of pink, smiling Sea Monkeys, and below were three plastic windows containing numbered packets. I shook the envelope upside-down and a leaflet flapped out, “It’s Fun to Raise Pet Sea Monkeys.”

    In the painting...

  15. Food Chain
    (pp. 120-129)

    Friday morning, as planned with the gang, I skipped school. I shrugged my uniform on, swallowed milk, walked Peter school-ward, and then navigated the lanes back into our house. The dog was the only witness to my return. I cocooned myself in bed and went back to sleep. A racket at the window scared me awake, and I rolled over and shoved my face through the curtain.

    Gravel spattered the metal screen. I jerked back. Tim was standing in the lane, hooking his arm for me to come down.

    I stumbled below to the kitchen and opened the back door....

  16. A Test of the Emergency Broadcast System
    (pp. 130-139)

    The afternoon was slow and mysterious. My consciousness, due to the pot, was a bundle of telescopes: I’d start seeing through one of them and forget the others, then I’d recall them and my mind would shift, slide down another tube, and get trapped there a while, enlarging the details at the end. Sometimes I felt normal, then immediately I’d feel warped.

    We dozed on a bus most of the way back to town. I said goodbye to Tim outside of Blessed Heart, four hundred inside voices murmuring “Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ,” as the school suffered our weekly...

  17. Welcome to Horrible Movies
    (pp. 140-155)

    I sat on the bed beside a stuffed bear while Margie, Kneeling in a miniskirt, daubed rubbing alcohol onto the teeth holes in my ankle. It felt similar to a jellyfish stinging. In sympathy, Margie supplied the noises I was stifling, little backward hisses at each touch of the Kleenex. I distracted myself by studying the stripe of pale bare skin where her short, sleeveless top ended and the skirt began. She had on high heels.

    “She’s a strong dog,” I said, “for her size.”

    “Patrick’s supposed to lock her in the yard at night, but Mama wasn’t here to...

  18. Another Color
    (pp. 156-163)

    I leaned over to help Tim unfold one of the tents and my nausea slid, stomach to head, like poison in a test tube. I sat down fast, sweating, in the monkey-high grass of the Sullivans’ backyard, my senses so wide open I smelled the staleness of my own sneakers.

    Wade tugged nylon up into a sudden tent-shape, like opening a pop-up book, and said, “Margie wore him out. He can’t even stand up.” He giggled, voice higher than what he allowed for talking.

    Joey O’Connor grinned bashfully, tossed another stake beside a corner of the tent, and Rusty set...

  19. Bwana Tim
    (pp. 164-171)

    We rode past the Highway 80 Drive-In. Its glowing marquee announced Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and Super Fly T.N.T., but several of the letters had been subtracted and rearranged below to spell TITTY. The drive-in was so decadent that it allowed this to stand, lit up like Christmas, on its busiest night.

    Rolling on through Thunderbolt, a subdivision on the Worthington River, we kept our conversation equal to the dark and quiet, but dogs began a barking relay, and in many houses a curtain swept back to reveal a concerned resident framed in light. A police car was...

  20. Banshee in the Woods
    (pp. 172-180)

    What’s that?“ I said, stopping on the trail. I heard a sort of magnified heartbeat through the trees.

    “Calypso music,” Joey said. “Reggae. I think it’s coming from that same truck we saw earlier.”

    “We’d better investigate,” said Tim.

    We crept along the trail. When the woods began to thin out, we pocketed our flashlights and relied on the moon. We stopped at the trees’ end, trail’s exit.

    The truck was parked at the edge of a field, near the pens for the farm animals and a barn. Out in the center of the field two figures sat in the...

  21. Underground
    (pp. 181-184)

    The hospital was near our neighborhood. Attendants were waiting at the curb with a wheeled stretcher, and my parents materialized as I was lying down. “We’re here,” Mama said, and followed beside us as I was rolled through the sliding glass doors. They behaved as if they’d done something wrong and needed me to forgive them.

    In a curtained-off area in a white room, a black man wearing glasses helped me strip and wriggle into a gown. He tried to converse with me about baseball while he soaped me and shaved off my pubic hair. I looked down once and...

  22. Not Approved by the Comics Code Authority
    (pp. 185-188)

    The adventure actually had the effect we’d intended, though Tim’s death crushed any possibility of satisfaction. We did not return to school after the accident, Kavanagh never again mentioned our comic-book obscenity, and Blessed Heart graduated us, though I didn’t attend the ceremony. Our gang became legendary. The local TV stations sent crews to Marshland Island and interviewed Paul Steatham. There were wobbly close-ups of a stain on the wood of the observation platform, supposedly from Tim, and ominous shots of the empty bobcat pen. The cats had all been destroyed by the police. A group of citizens got very...

  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 189-189)