Why did the nuns disappear? And, what is the tribunal of dead rabbis?

nunrulerWhere are all the nuns? What happened to those benevolent, selfless sisters of mercy and compassion? How did they go so quickly from this black-and-white force of thousands to an occasional sighting here or there, usually near an airplane bound for Latin America?

When I was in grade school, the sisters were ubiquitous (you learn words like that when you’re taught by nuns), wielded great power and commanded respect.

We were like clay in their carefully scrubbed, pink hands. We were delivered to them at our most impressionable and they embraced us with confidence.

They fed us, protected us, taught us.

They tended to our wounds, both physical and spiritual.

They tried to explain God.

They dispensed drugs and discipline in equal measure. If provoked, they pinched, scratched and used their rulers as paddles. The acted quickly and confidently, without worry that some mom would bust through the schoolhouse doors to complain about Little Johnny’s red knuckles or reddened cheeks.

That just didn’t happen. That would be like challenging Jesus.

He was married to the nuns, you know. That’s how they explained their vows to remain celibate and serve the church.

Of course Jesus, as channeled through the local priest, was the final word on all important matters — from the hymn choices for Christmas mass to whether Petey Hanrahan should be expelled for scratching a curse word on the bathroom stall.

When you play out the logic, it made no sense to challenge a nun. She was just carrying out orders from her higher-ups and they were really really high up.

The mandate was clear to me: Listen to the nuns, obey the priest and get ready for First Communion. At the time, it all made perfect sense.

Until Sister Alverna came into the picture.

I first became leery during a game of “Red Rover.”

Sister Alverna had been one of the few sisters to join us playing recess games, like “Red Rover.” To play, we would lock arms to help form a human chain and dare someone from the other team to run at us to try to break through.

Usually, all went well as the chain held and the challenger from the other team fell to the grass in defeat. But, once in awhile, one of the bigger boys would break through, sometimes by running right at Sister Alverna.

In games past, she just guffawed and played on. But something eventually changed. One afternoon, she snarled and tried to slap the boy on the back. Another time, we thought we heard her curse. Yet another time, she stepped on a boy when he fell to the ground in front of her.

She eventually just stopped playing.

At about the same time, she began to accuse us of poking fun at her or plotting against her. Sometimes she would ask why we were laughing when we hadn’t been.

One afternoon during a question and answer period, I used the word “persecution” in my reply. She accused me of saying “prostitution” to turn a serious religion lesson into a joke.

One day in geography class, she talked for at least a half hour about the attributes of a priest she had met on a missionary trip. Then, she insisted we use our class time to cut out, color and paste together paper crucifixes. They were designed to slide on to Baby Ruth candy bars to be handed out by the handsome priest to poor kids in Nicaragua.

The crucifixes took weeks.

To this day, I’m convinced I still cannot pick out Uruguay on a globe because of that  lost class time.

Atop all this, Sister Alverna began telling odd stories. They got more and more bizarre.

There were tales of priests and nuns doing good deeds that took outrageous, improbable turns. It was as if everyone she met had the power to perform miracles.

Like the Bible, the stories could be gruesome. One that I’ll never forget — let’s call it Billy and the Body of Christ — popped up as we were being warned about the dos and don’ts of taking Holy Communion.

Billy was our bad example, Sister Alverna’s cautionary tale.

It goes like this.

Billy transferred to the Catholic school from public school, where he had already been a bit of an outcast.

With greasy hair and a leather jacket, he liked to carry a comb that worked like a switchblade. He scared little kids with it.

Like most who transferred in, Billy was expected to convert to Catholicism, to go through the rituals, including First Communion. Well, he was much older than the other prospective communion recipients, and he scoffed at the lectures from the nuns about the sacrament.

He didn’t believe that the tiny little round host could be turned into the body of Christ. He wanted to prove the nuns wrong.

So, he came up with a plan — Sister Alverna lowered her voice to an almost inaudible level in telling this part — to  steal the host instead of swallowing it. And, he pulled it off, slipping the consecrated wafer into his jacket and sneaking it home to his basement.

There, in an underground room with no windows,  he had a hammer, a hacksaw and a chisel. He tried all three on the white round host, but, perplexingly, could not break or crack the wafer. Angry now, he stomped the host repeatedly with his hobnail boots, the kind, according to Sister Alverna, that  the Nazis wore.

A speck of blood appeared. Then more. As Billy bent to inspect the trickle of red, the blood began to run faster, then gush.

Billy was found the next day.


He had drowned.

I remember being so  scared that I drank, like,  three glasses of water after communion, worried about letting even a tiny crumb of Jesus escape my lips.

Only later, after about our 10th or 11th communion, did we kids start to question the story. Soon, we lumped it into the batch of exaggerations and rantings that were now coming almost daily from Sister Alverna.

Not sure how long it took after the Billy story for Sister Alverna to disappear. If I recall correctly, the other nuns said she had been rewarded for her years of service with an assignment to a mission by the sea. I hoped they hooked her up with the handsome priest she liked to talk about.

I didn’t believe she went to any beautiful mission, though.

I developed a theory about her disappearance. It also can be used to explain the dearth of nuns in general. I recite this theory with the same confidence and ardor that Sister Alverna told us about Billy and the basement.


I think Jesus got tired of the alimony payments. He used Alverna as a test case; he called for a hearing.

God, of course, had to recuse himself because he couldn’t remain unbiased toward his only son. The most senior saints appointed a tribunal of dead rabbis. God had told the angels the Jews were dependable, fair-minded and good with money.

The tribunal offered Sister Alverna  a settlement: A couple years hard labor in Limbo followed by a piece of heaven where she was the ultimate Red Rover player and competed only against young priests.

She bit.

As the women’s liberation movement hit America and feminism flourished, the other nuns jumped at the chance to get out of those itchy habits. The rabbi tribunal got very busy.

Nowadays, you’ll see lots of volunteers at Catholic schools but not so many nuns. The ones you do see are not always recognizable. They’ve been able to negotiate their way out of the starchy clothing and wacky headpieces.

But do they still marry Jesus?

I guess that’s a tricky question. From my research, some nuns insist that’s the case, calling it a “mystical marriage,” and others say that’s just hogwash.

Maybe, like Sister Alverna’s stories, none of this is really ever black and white.

See what I did there.

Which reminds me of a joke I imagine Sister Alverna telling.

Sister: What’s black and white and red all over.

Me: A newspaper.


How about a groom in a blender?

Sister: No, it’s the nun who tried to give Billy CPR in the bloody basement.

Me: Sorry, just like when I was little, I don’t Bolivia, sister.

Sister: OK, have it Uruguay.

Me: Ha. I would. But, because of you, I still can’t find it on a map.



Trumpty Dumpty? One bad egg.

Trumpty dumpty had plans for a wall.
But before he could build, he took a great fall.

Hard as he tried to keep up hopes,
Voters cried out for more on the gropes.

We were all ears when it came to the tape;
Trumpty said Bill Clinton did all the rape.

Hillary got sick and Trumpty did his best to misdirect.

But he and his lackies crashed, flipped and wrecked.
Meanwhile, one after another came Trumpty’s accusers,
And he called them liars, ugly and losers

“Oh Lord, I didn’t boast of sex assault,” Trumpty said.
“It was just locker room talk of exploits in bed.”

Hillary kept smiling and let it all roll
As she took the lead in poll after poll.

Yes, Trumpty had plans for this giant wall.
But history will write of this epic fall.

Because all Trumpty’s donors, his wife, the pitchmen
Simply couldn’t put Trumpty together again.

Face it fans. Football’s on its death bed.

I’m writing this with sadness.

Football, pro football with all its dizzying excitement, improbable twists and excitable fans, is dying.

It will soon go the way of jousting, sitting on exploding airbags and gladiators. All we’ll have left is video highlights and tall tales of players doing crazy things.

The Us of the future will giggle nervously and poke fun at how dumb the players were to risk their lives, sorta like watching old news clips showing DDT sprayed in the faces of babies.

Now wait. Before you label me one of those bleeding-heart wimpy puff-balls who meditates more than he masticates, I was a maniacal football fan, and wish I still was.

Not one for thumb. Thumbs down to football from me.
Not one for thumb. Thumbs down to football from me.

I loved the Pittsburgh Steelers. I grew up near downtown Pittsburgh. I knew the Steel Curtain, heard the Immaculate Reception play out on radio, celebrated injury to the opposing players.

I even once screamed to our quarterback that we had his mother hostage in the stands and would hurt her if his playing didn’t improve. A chant developed that I think he heard.

I laughed about, even bragged about, Steelers or ex-Steelers doing crazy things like shooting at police helicopters. C’mon. It’s just those tough, wild, indestructible Steelers blowing off steam. No harm, no major foul.

This was horseplay — not criminal, or bullying or major sleaze.

Even getting rough with a girlfriend or spouse was OK so long as no major injury was reported. And nothing was major in the old days — maybe it was the media or maybe just the American idea of what was acceptable when it came to abusing women. It also seemed, likely due to the absence of news accounts and a culture of ignoring women’s problems, that the ladies eventually accepted it all as part of the raucous life of pro sports, with its cash, other benefits and glory.

So what’s different now?

Almost everything.

1) It’s hard to be a loyal fan. Most of the players’ flaws and bad deeds get exposed, and they’re not just drunken pranks or youthful missteps.

Every other day, some rule is getting broken, with the young player standing in front of the mic apologizing in halting language that always mentions god but never seems serious. You can usually hardly hear him and he looks like he can’t wait to get away to vape up some new mix of THC and crushed Oxy.

2) Players change uniforms more often than Bill Belichick chastens reporters. I tried looking up stats to back this up but didn’t immediately succeed. It sure seems, though, like you just get to learn how to pronounce a new Steeler’s name to find out he’s been traded to the hated Ravens.

3) The league suspends the rulebreakers so often that fans cannot get to know them, or like them. Does any fan anywhere actually understand what a player is or is not allowed by rule to ingest?

4) How do you root for a man or woman to continue to blow his brain apart? Scientists have confirmed concussion damage. It’s become so real and serious to me now that my visceral reaction to what used to be considered a great, ball-jarring hit — a fist pump and scream of joy — has changed to a wince and quick prayer for the player hit, even if he’s a Raven.

Hearing that the wife of beloved Steeler Troy Polamalu wanted him to stop playing because she worried he would not be healthy to enjoy his children almost made me cry.


5) Fans don’t know the rules.

What’s pass interference? What’s a reception? What’s roughing the quarterback? An intentional helmet-to-helmet hit? Too much dancing in the end zone?

It’s not our fault. The rules are fuzzy, or maybe they are too numerous. It seems simpler to decipher a Sherlock mystery than who gets penalized when a receiver and defender vie for a 45-yard pass.

6) Does anyone really care about their hometown teams? Or, only their fantasies?

C’mon, admit it. Wouldn’t you rather see a touchdown by your fantasy quarterback than the guy running your hometown team? Be honest. Maybe not in the run-of-the-mill game but how about if that TD determines if you win money?

How much does gambling play into the fan mindset every Sunday? Admit it, you don’t give a rat’s behind whether your Chicago Bears score if you’ve already got the spread covered.

7) Do the players want to be Steelers … Jets … Jaguars? Do they care where they play?

Money seems to be more important. Is camaraderie just for show? Is all this talk of tradition and history pure bull?

7) Lots of players just disappear into Injuryland.

Two weeks off here. Two months there. A rising star one week and unable to walk on a Turf Toe for the next month. Who was that guy again?

Of course, advances in science and medicine have made it easier to see or prevent serious injuries. And players have done well through collective bargaining to protect their right to treatment and time off when hurt. But again, with so many players out recuperating, who can keep track of who’s who?

Please, don’t get me wrong. Don’t jump to conclusions.

I’m not one of this cranky old privileged mostly white fat men saying players have gone soft. Far be it from me to call these athletic superstars — super human specimens actually — crybabies or wimps.

I never played tackle football. I got so messed up playing touch and flag and basketball that I sit back in awe that anyone survives years of playing tackle, let alone at high levels.



I also understand the theory that more injuries come when players are stronger and faster. And, you will not find me trying to argue against rule changes to lessen the chance of someone busting up a spine on the turf.


So, you might ask, what is my point.


Like I said, I’m simply expressing disappointment, sadness. It’s over.

While it lasted, it was exciting — a great escape from the world of smoky steel mills and neighborhood malaise. Pro football gave depressed cities lots to feel good about, or at least feel tough and proud about.


But, we gotta move on.

Games on Sunday with all the haphazard ref calls, injuries, debates over rules and glum news on who got suspended for what do not leave me satisfied. I’m more anxious after watching the games that I used to be worrying about the entire upcoming workweek.

But, again sadly, I have no solution.


Maybe it’s some ramped up, speedier baseball. One-strike baseball? Or soccer with more pizzazz. Or maybe we expand America’s Got Talent to last all Sunday afternoon, with city-by-city talent wars.

I do know one thing, though. There’s no resurrecting football.

It’s dying.

Some smart folks realize it, too. They’re adapting.

I’d love to see that happen in Springfield. Lots of smart people run Missouri State, or work there.

Hey, Top Bears out there. Have some guts. Cut bait.

Kill the football program. Explain how you came to realize that — despite the pressure and all those years of tradition — it’s wrong to encourage kids, even subsidize  them, for blowing their brains apart. Especially when it’s supposed to be your job to grow those same brains.

Put the money into some really cool things to expand the baseball experience, or maybe another existing sport that’s already doing well. There’s gotta be some clever way to use that Bear mascot to launch a survivor-type college challenge that combines training, smarts and competition. Challenge the students to create a new competition that attracts the nerds to do the puzzling and the brawny students to do the work.

And, by the way, please give some raises to coaches other than those running the big sports.

As it is, you’re putting all your eggs into the basket carried around by a high-paid, mostly unproven football coach who spouts cliches, proudly didn’t review old films for clues to bad performance and hails from the Pittsburgh area, where fanaticism is often mistaken for expertise.

As for me, I’ll keep watching the Steelers — sadly — and I’ll even slip into a round or two of “Here We Go.” But, don’t look over my way too often. You might get sad, too.

Watching an old fat white man crying in his beer, especially when his team is winning, can be really, really depressing.