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Joe Ryan — obituary

RYAN, Joe (Retired Ottawa Hydro) With broken hearts, the...

Answers to Diana’s Quiz – July 13, 2024

by Diana Filer 1.  Ammunition is now available...

The Skinny Shirt at the Hub

Reflections from the Swamp Dear Reader Most of us...

The Prayer Room

Reflections from the Swamp
Richard van Duyvendyk

I hope that the rumours I’ve heard about events that happened more than 25 years ago are beyond prosecution due to the Statutes of Limitations are true. Just in case, I’ve altered the names in this memoir to protect the person described from prosecution.

Being one of four children must be arduous when deciding which persona to project on your family when seated around the dinner table. This difficult task is especially true for the youngest family member because many of the “good” personas have already been claimed by siblings. Imagine looking across the dinner table as the youngest child with three teenage siblings who have already developed the public images of their characters to the table. How do I fit in? Choosing to be the academic, the entrepreneur, or the athlete would take away from the balance in character required for family harmony. These had already been taken.

Delmer (not his real name) decided that being an adventurer was still up for grabs as a persona. He wanted to combine adventurism with humour to add his place in the potpourri of family life. His interest was sparked by people who were fasted typists using their noses, eating two hundred hotdogs, or flying over Niagara Falls on a motorcycle. Monty Python’s Flying Circus influenced his taste in humour; the more bazaar, the better. Delmer favoured British wit over American sitcoms.

Delmer went to a Catholic high school. He liked the man who was the Chaplain. Delmer favoured philosophic discussions over speculations on hockey games. He would often go to the prayer room and engage in philosophical conversations with the Chaplain. Questions such as, What should we say to God when God sneezes? Why do banks have branches if money doesn’t grow on trees? These questions intrigued Delmer.

He didn’t get into drugs or drinking, was kind to everyone, had no prior school convictions, and was drawn to other Monty Python characters who wandered the halls of the school. Drama and art were his favourite subjects, but gym and math were not so much.

During the nineties, streaking became increasingly common in the news. The streaker was usually male, running naked across a venue such as a field at a football game.

Often, streakers protested the injustices found in daily living. Sometimes, they streaked for no particular reason at all.

To discourage the rising tide of streaking, governments enacted laws to enable charges of a first-degree misdemeanour, fines up to $2500, and up to a year in jail. Delmer was oblivious to these new laws but drawn to streaking as a potential sport. He didn’t like hockey or football much.

Delmer thought the fries sold in the cafeteria were overpriced, mushy, and unfit for human consumption. Something had to draw attention to this gastronomical tragedy. Streaking seemed like an appropriate response. Streaking needed to have a worthy cause.

Delmer was a modest fellow and reasoned that wearing a loincloth wouldn’t diminish his goal of making a statement about the fries. He’d be streaking with no peeking. After examining his wardrobe, he settled on white Stanfield underwear as he failed to locate any loincloths.

Delmer developed his plan with another Monty Python friend. He would wear his Stanfields and a Halloween mask of an older man, streak down the halls and into the cafeteria, run across the tables, crying out, “Holy Spirit, fries suck! We demand edible fries!” Delmer then jumped off the table, exited the gym through the far exit, and ran into the nearby woods.

His friend stashed a suit, tie, and jacket in the woods, which Delmer put on, returned to the school through the front door, and went to the prayer room.

The prayer room was always open for the more reflective students and empty during the noon lunch break. It also presented a perfect alibi for where he was during the crime. Delmer did confess that on this occasion, he used the prayer room to pray that he wouldn’t get caught.

The drama of the streak through the school was enhanced by Delmer’s gym teacher, who spotted him in the hall and proceeded to chase him into the cafeteria. The gym teacher was fit and gaining on Delmer when a student eating in the room shoved a backpack in the gym teacher’s path, which sent him sprawling on the floor. The gym teacher’s determination to identify the streaker started with questioning the witnesses in the room. None of the students claimed to know who the streaker was, although one of them was his sister.

Delmer, wearing the suit he had stashed in the woods, went to his afternoon class. He was conspicuously dressed for the occasion, wearing a tux he had bought cheaply at the Hub in Almonte. After staring blankly at his trigonometry book, Delmer felt a tap on his shoulder from an agent from the administration, who requested that he go to the principal’s office. There weren’t many in the school with Delmer’s personality, so he rose to the top on a short list of suspects.

Delmer liked the principal. The students respected her. When the principal asked questions, Delmer proposed they discuss the incident philosophically. He was open to discussing the incident as a theoretical escapade. She agreed.

Delmer said The streaker was likely traumatized by the experience. The streaker has probably had time to reflect on the foolhardy, indiscreet, irresponsible behaviour. He speculated that the streaker would never engage in such shenanigans again. The principal agreed with his conclusions and speculated that repeating this behaviour would likely result in complex consequences.

When we received the call from the principal later that day, we found her to be very insightful, forgiving, and understanding. She decided not to take further action because the laws on streaking were too harsh. Instead of bringing Delmer to the back of the woodshed, my bride and I tried to emulate the example of the principal.

We heard Delmer’s account at the dinner table, with additions from siblings who witnessed the event. I often recall the streaking incident when I see the Standfield underwear blowing in the wind on the clothesline. I considered becoming a Stanfield streaker myself; Lord knows there are enough injustices in the world, but I won’t. The role of streaker has already been taken in our family dynamic.

I’m pleased to hear that the prayer room is still at the school; my granddaughter is there now. Having a place to pray and reflect during our busy lives is good. It is a place to take off the old man mask and face the world with all of its joys and imperfections, where we have an alibi to care for ourselves and others.

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