Dec 25, 2013

Fall 1981: The Priest with the Pushy Mom

I began my senior year at Augustana (1981-82) with a single burning question: grad school or a job?

My professors claimed that I could use an English and Modern Languages major to launch a career in journalism, public relations, advertising, translating, or publishing. Surprise -- you needed specialized training for all of those jobs.  300 resumes, and not a single bite.

So I applied to grad school:
1. Russian, University of Iowa (I know, I was just in first year, but I really liked my Russian major friend in Iowa City)
2. Law, Indiana University
3. English, Indiana University
4. Spanish, Tulane University
5. Linguistics, University of Chicago
6. Byzantine Studies, University of Chicago

Why Byzantine Studies?

With my new Russian obsession, I wanted to try out Russian Orthodox Church, but the nearest was in Chicago, so I picked the next best thing: St. George's Greek Orthodox Church in Rock Island.

I was disappointed: the liturgy was in English, not Greek, there were pews (I heard that the Orthodox stood), and the sermon was on heterosexual marriage.  But I did meet Peter, formerly a Greek Orthodox priest, now a private investigator for an insurance company.

Being a clergy groupie, I eagerly accepted his invitation to dinner, even though he was substantially older than me, in his 40s.

He lived in a big house in Davenport with his elderly parents, a bedridden Dad and a frail, tiny Mom who talked incessantly of the old country (she left Greece at the age of five, but still remembered it as a "good place").

The dinner was awful -- lamb in some kind of disgusting white sauce, undercooked potatoes -- what happened to the moussaka, spanikopita, and stuffed grape leaves?  No desert -- not even baklava.  And Peter and his Mom drank incessantly.

Afterwards, Peter invited me into his study to see his books on Orthodox theology, Byzantine history, and modern Greek.  He told me about the Russian Orthodox Saints Boris and George, who were gay, and suggested that the Byzantine world was a "good place."

At least it was bright and colorful.

We went downstairs to the basement rec room, where his Mom was watching Fantasy Island. When it was over, she said goodnight and went to bed, and we watched a late movie on tv, something with Bette Davis in it.  Then Peter asked if I wanted to spend the night.

We went into his bedroom and began to get intimate.

Suddenly the door swung open, and Mom walked in.  No knocking, no words, no nothing.  She saw us, shrieked, and ran out.

"What was...why..."  I stammered.

"Oh, don't worry," Peter said.  "Mom knows that I'm gay."

"Why did she rush in like that?"

"She didn't realize that you were spending the night."

That wasn't a satisfactory answer.

In the morning Mom was perfectly gracious.  There was no breakfast except coffee and juice -- the Greek Orthodox fast before Communion.

Peter invited me over for dinner several more times in the fall of 1981, and afterwards Mom always asked "Boomer, will you be spending the night?"

I loved hearing about the Byzantine World, and Peter was a bona fide member of the Horsemen's Club, but he never wanted to go out in public, not even to the Greek Festival.  We would have dinner -- the food was terrible -- and watch tv -- it was always Love Boat and Fantasy Island.  Besides, Mom was a little creepy.  After about two months, I called it quits.

But not before I applied to the Byzantine Studies Program at the University of Chicago.

I ended up going to Indiana University to study English.