I went to high school with a guy who had an IQ so high that tests couldn’t measure it. Or so it was claimed, anyway, when we got into trouble.His name was David P. He was the very first out atheist I ever met. Once in the school dining hall, after collecting $1.50 dare money, he stood up on a table and shouted, “There is no God! If there is a God, let Him strike me dead now!”
Most of us were only trying out this atheism stuff. This seemed serious. Unconsciously, as a body, we moved away from the table like pigeons scattering in the park. I had on rubber-soled shoes, but that didn’t seem enough. There was a thick silence. Even the teachers were waiting, it seemed, for a lightning bolt. David P pocketed his buck-fifty and got only two days’ detention.David P went around talking about Nietzsche and Sartre. I made do with Jack Kerouac. He would interrupt history class and spiel what seemed to be intact lines from The Communist Manifesto. He refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lord’s Prayer in home room. After some bullying, I went along with that too. We got five strokes with a paddle as punishment, administered by a football coach in short pants. They didn’t fool around when it came to halting blasphemy in Robert E. Lee High School.
We went to school as little as possible. There was a cinema in Five Points where a couple of adolescents could slip in the fire exit door and make their way to the balcony seats, where only a few old men sat with their coats in their laps. We got caught for playing hookey and punished. David P used to sing the Internationale while getting his licks. We were put on what was called “Garden Club”, a day when you carted bricks from one end of the sports field to the other and carted them back after lunch.One day, David P had an idea. “These morons are Christians, aren’t they?”
“Sure,” I said.“Then let’s go to the movies,” he replied. I went unquestioningly. Anybody who read Remembrance of Things Past on the toilet could work out a plan to miss Garden Club.
We were on the carpet the following morning. The Principal and the Assistant Principal were both there. None of us were smiling except David P. The Principal asked us why we had walked off the school grounds without permission.“Well, you see, Christ appeared to me on the football field,” David P said. “He emerged from a white cloud, dressed in a long robe and said, ‘Leave this place and go to a place of worship and spend this day in prayer.’ So we did. Didn’t we, Art?”
Time telescoped. I looked up, expecting to see enraged Principals. But their faces were white and frozen. Probably not as white and frozen as mine.I still claim I was more afraid of Jesus than the two school officials, but I’m sure David P never believed me. I got two weeks’ suspension, but maybe I’ll get it back in heaven someday.
I said, “We went to see The Swamp Thing.”