Shared Stories

My friend Chris and I met when we had both just begun attending Hope High School, I as a freshman and he as a sophomore. He’d spent his freshman year attending Our Lady of Providence, an experiment in being a good Catholic that didn’t go well for him. My first memory of Chris is of him telling me a story. I, an inveterate secularist, had asked him what it was like to go to a parochial school, and by way of explanation he launched into the Tale Of Father Knackowitz – Knack The Black to the terrified teenagers of OLP. Knackowitz was the school’s tall, imperious vice-principal, who spent his days wandering the hallways in his long black priest’s raiments looking for disobedient boys. Chris claimed he’d never seen Father Knackowitz without a Styrofoam cup of coffee in his hand. You could smell his coffee before you saw him, in the same way Captain Hook could hear the approaching crocodile by the ticking clock he’d swallowed. There was a rumor at OLP that it was always the same cup of coffee, kept hot and always full day after day by some unholy miracle.

But Father Knackowitz had a nemesis – McDougal. McDougal was a junior the year Chris attended, known throughout the school for his impious mischievousness. McDougal was clever, however, and whether he was skipping classes or scrawling dirty words on the bathroom walls, he was never caught. Everyone knew, but no one could prove, that McDougal was consistently up to no good. It was Knackowitz’s job – a job he in which he took ruthless pleasure – to drag misbehaving boys into his office and administer punishment. For two years and two semesters, McDougal had avoided that office.

One day in his third semester, Chris’s English teacher sent him on an errand to the school’s office in the middle of class. Boys could not wander the halls during class, and so his teacher gave him a hall pass; proof of innocence. Chris hurried down the stairs to the first floor and wound his way toward the office, where he bumped into McDougal himself. McDougal, who did not have a hall pass, winked at Chris, and ducked into the bathroom.

Chris delivered his teacher’s message to the office, stepped back out into the hallway – when he smelled the earthy-acid aroma of steaming coffee. He froze, and in the next moment Knackowitz swept around the corner, his robes flowing black behind him, his Styrofoam cup aloft. Knack the Black’s eyes burned momentarily seeing a boy in the hall, but Chris quickly presented his pass. Knackowitz nodded, and, coffee still aloft, turned to continue his rounds.

And that was the exact moment McDougal, kept unaware of the nearby danger by the lavatory’s own dense aromatic environment, opened the bathroom door straight into a turning Father Knackowitz. There was a thud, an “Oof!” and then – a splash. Chris could see the drips of coffee staining Knackowitz’s robe. As the door swung closed, McDougal looked up into the face of judgment, and dropped his head.

Knackowitz said only: “McDougal. My office. Now.”

McDougal was never seen or heard from again. Chris decided soon after that maybe he was a public school guy after all.

That’s the story as I remember it. Chris may not remember telling that story, may not even remember Father Knackowitz. That’s the beauty of stories and of friendships. They live in our hearts where they travel with us always, belonging to each of us only because they’re shared.

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