Monday, November 22, 2010
Las Manos: Golgotha, 1959
In 1959, Easter fell on March 29th. Twelve days before, on Tuesday March 17th, during a period of a fifth grade public school day given over to “religious education,” a ten-year old Lampson Tymers sat forming, with toothpicks, a depiction of Golgotha on purple construction paper.
The toothpicks were of the flat-sided variety, which facilitated building the mass of the hill on which the three crosses stood; each of these were then easily formatted by carefully snapping off sections of the toothpicks and aligning them at right angles to the main stem of the crosses. The bodies of Jesus and the two thieves were left to the imagination. But Lampson didn’t feel the need to use his imagination; the main thing was to finish the assignment within the time alloted.
Some school-supplied version of white “Elmer’s glue” was applied to the toothpicks before laying them onto the construction paper. Not being the neatest of children nor very good at craft-oriented projects, it’s quite possible Lampson’s fingers got increasingly sticky with the glue as he botched the right angles of the crosses, a discomfort, along with a mild vexation that his Golgotha didn’t look as good as that of the crisply attired pretty girl across the aisle, that would not relieved until he made it home an hour or two later, when he could wash his hands in soapy water and dunk his brain in comics or television.
These would be the least of his problems, as he was soon to find out. Toothpicks, crosses, Easter––all of these came together over 51 years ago, along with a certain transgressive act––something he'd done earlier that same day––the consequences of which would divide his still evolving consciousness into a before and an after. Like most transgressions, it was only transgressive because it was perceived as such, but the consequences for Lampson were cataclysmic nonetheless.
That’s why, even today, Lampson remembers his toothpick crucifixion. With a cinematic dovetailing of event, probably due to the deft editing capabilities of memory, he had just completed his Golgotha when he was called to report to the head of the six-grade class, normally presided over by the assistant principal of Amelia R. Lutz School, Mr. Gaertner.
Mr. Gaertner was a tall, young, athletic man, whose head, topped by an army-regulation buzz cut, was too small for his body. Although essentially kind and patient, he was somewhat feared because it was to his office George Sting, the principal, usually delegated issuance of discipline when needed. George Sting was an unprepossessing man of indeterminate middle age, short of stature and suffering from male pattern baldness.
Lampson’s older brother, already in junior high school, had made a joke of the principal’s name, calling him, “Big Sting,” as if George Sting might be some kind of Dickensian terror to the kids, but this was far from the truth. The principal was actually a rather timid man, hoping things at Amelia Lutz would go smoothly, like they usually did, every single day. It just so happened Lampson’s father was acquainted with George Sting; they were both members of the same chapter of the local Rotary club.
On this Tuesday, however, both he and Mr. Gaertner were absent, attending a conference.
Being summoned, Lampson instead reported to the sixth-grade class––in mid-session just as his fifth grade class had been––headed by a substitute teacher, a middle-aged be-speckled dark-haired lady, who, as he entered, motioned him over to the desk, from which she pulled a lower, right-hand drawer. Laying within it, was a brown paper towel, with two words scrawled upon it, in ink:
In spite of the ink bleeding outwards from each letter, the phrase was very legible. To Lampson, it seemed to scream loudly from its confines in the narrow drawer. He was surprised none of the boys and girls in the class appeared to hear the the paper towel screaming, or were even much aware of his standing there, alone, in front of the class, suddenly numb with the realization of the majestic awfulness of the moment.
Calm and collected, the substitute teacher looked Lampson straight in the eye.
“Did you write this?” she said. What could Lampson do but say, yes, I did, because he had written it. Confession over, the substitute teacher smiled at him, said thank you, and sent him back to his class and his toothpick Golgotha.
To say that Lampson’s own Passion was about to begin would be inappropriate, self-aggrandizing and bad metaphor-sizing: the events that followed those of 3/17/59, although offering cup after cup of lonely anguish and repeated bouts of self-inflicted mental flagellation, climaxed in no rolling away of any stones, no meeting of any Mary in any garden, no touching and confirmation of any wounds by any disciple Thomas, no resurrection, and, finally, no redemption at all.
[to be continued]