This past Monday morning, I found myself in North Jersey attending Roman Catholic mass for a funeral. I don’t really discuss it much, but I was brought up Roman Catholic and actually spent a few years as an altar boy. The reason I don’t discuss it much isn’t because anything particularly shocking happened to me as an altar boy or as a Roman Catholic, it’s just that they’re both kinda boring aspects of a typical suburban upbringing in central New Jersey. No one was molested and we all did the usual things that people in church do, like go to church and try to do good in life. In fact, our priest was pretty awesome. The rectory was well stocked with breakfast cereals and there were ramps in the church’s tennis courts, both of which were free to use for members of the church. Actually, the ramps were open to anyone in the area regardless of their denomination, but the cereal, that was strictly for us Catholics.
Still, our parish was in desperate need of altar boys when the call went out sometime in 1988. At the time, I was just entering this weird BMX phase of my life, declaring allegiance to a strict diet of Vision Street Wear clothing, GT Bicycles and BMX magazines. Not much else mattered in my life, not even the hour each week I spent in church lugging a golden cross around and thinking about BMX bikes. Hell, I still don’t know what half the shit we were repeating verbatim in a Catholic mass is supposed to mean. We never gave thought to what we were saying; we just learned the words and recited them at the appropriate times. But I definitely toiled away at least two years of my life as an altar boy on the weekends, wearing Skate Rags pants and Vision Street Wear sneakers underneath my cassock. All my Catholic friends were doing it too. We’d eat cereal before the mass and ride or skate the ramps afterwards. It seemed like a good thing for all those involved, including God, our parents and General Mills, the manufacturer of the pounds of breakfast cereal we ate during those times. But even before the eyes of God, some things can go terribly wrong at the worst time possible.
Such was the case for Frank Cordasco, a close friend that skated and ate too much cereal too fast just prior to a Saturday evening mass. Sometime during the mass, Frank started looking a little queasy. This wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for an altar boy. I mean, you’re carrying the cup of Christ and wearing a robe in front of 200 people. That’s tough on any teen-ager. But Frank’s uneasiness continued to grow, and sometime during the priest’s sermon, he leaned over and vomited cereal, a hell of a whole lot of it, all over the altar.
The sermon continued, I almost lost it sitting just five-feet away in front of 200 people, and the off-duty priest at the time (his name was Father Dino) emerged with paper towels and proceeded to clean the altar as the mass carried on. Not much of the vomiting was spoken of by either Frank or the priests. I guess they both just chalked it up to nerves, but man, did I ever laugh out loud for the remainder of that Saturday night and into the following week. You just don’t get many people giving physical credence to The Exorcist during a Catholic mass.
No long after, I was surreptitiously let go of my altar boy position due in part to my poor choice of footwear and my tardiness. The dismissal eventually became the end of my relationship with the Catholic church. But as I sat there this past week, listening to the chant of “Hosannah in the highest,” I couldn’t help but think about Frank Cordasco and the comical times I spent trying to do good in the eyes of God from a remote church in Matawan, NJ.