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113 Decadence Santa Clara, California, November 1995 From the window of his simple room in the Jesuit seminary , Dennis watched the stones that made up the building opposite become polka-dotted with intermittent rain. Even here in Santa Clara, California, the trees looked dead—blown in a uniform direction like lines of fright wigs. Over the ocean, which he made a point to go to as often as was allowed, he liked to watch the sunlight stream through rushing cloud banks onto the water, like klieg lights searching for enemy planes. It had been raining more and more these past few years. Dennis recalled not seven years before when that long drought in San Francisco had forced him to shower next to a bucket, using the extra water to flush. He missed lack. Even now, the habits of that time were still with him, and he never flushed the toilet if he didn’t have to, even, absentmindedly, at Rigo’s lasthurrah party—“If it’s yellow, let it mellow,” he’d told a fellow seminary student, gangly lolloping Danny, a twenty-two-year-old who’d attended alongside him. Danny thought this catchphrase deliciously naughty and hysterical. “I love poetry,” he said, when Dennis added the concluding verse about brown flushing down. Dennis knew Danny didn’t conserve water because he always showered at the same time in the morning and Dennis would be in, out, and nearly finished shaving at the big dormitory mirror when Danny finally stepped out of the stall, tall, lanky, and hunched, inverted for Dennis in the mirror’s reflection. Danny was some kind of reflective opposite in many ways, youth to Dennis’s age, voracious when Dennis felt sated, terrified while Dennis had little left to fear. Dennis remembered the first time he became aware of Danny. In the morning, they’d get up before dawn for matins, no light yet through the stained glass and no other source but a few candles on the altar. Dennis had dragged himself to the place among the pews where the other seminary students congregated in a loose group. After all, this was a time of silent prayer, yet even when one was alone, some sort of vague need to be together made magnets of people, even the most misanthropic of them. Dennis had seen the attraction on lone stretches of deserted freeway when four cars would bunch together with nothing else forever, before and after. That first day Dennis took a pew just behind his superior, the only silhouetted head he could recognize 114 115 in the dim cavern. Monsignor Hardy was letting his hair grow long. In the candlelight, his forehead gleamed like wax fruit. Not a minute later, another student entered Dennis’s pew and sat oddly too close to him. In a movie theater, Dennis would have considered the move an attempted pickup. Perhaps the guy was European; they had different ideas about personal space (Isabelle, in the crowded coach with the Dutch couple, on an otherwise empty train!). Then Dennis realized why this unknown man in the dank was pushing the accepted cultural norms—he smelled alcohol. The guy was inebriated! And in church! And before dawn! Perhaps he’d gotten pickled the night before and the hooch reeked through his pores. It was a processed alcoholic smell, unpleasant, unhealthy. Dennis’s sense of smell was always strong in the morning. Even now, with the layers of incense, smoke, and candle tallow, this new smell was like a shout, an inappropriate word—“What happened to him?”—on hallowed ground. Oh God! And there was Monsignor Hardy! He’d think it was Dennis, the new guy, who was a lush. And so would all the other seminarians within smell-shot. To pray, to concentrate now was hopeless. He wanted to exude his own odor to make it clear that he was sober, soapy, even. Smell was an amorphous cloud. Sight and sound came in rays, offending pains of ear, eye, even finger came like needles. The blunter the smell, the more awful. Who was this guy? An alcoholic who’d turned to God to find some kind of control or replacement? How sad, how very last resort. Dennis recalled how all the psychology majors in college were the most screwed up, trying to find their diagnosis in class. What sort of priest would this guy make? He’d be into the sacramental wine in no time; when his parishioners...


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MARC Record
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