In my catholic high school, Cardinal Spellman, you had to take a class called religion. Miss Tomasiello taught my freshman year class, which I thought was weird since you would expect a nun or priest to teach it, since they were experts. But I was thrilled to have a lay teacher any day. Tomasiello was short and plump and wore short hair and big oversized plastic glasses, which was the trendy thing. I wore them too. They were not the Run DMC kind that would later be super hip, but just the old lady kind that were in style in our neck of the woods and that they sold at the classy Sterling Optical on Fordham Road. Just about all of the girls who wore glasses sported this putrid style. There was no edge or irony in the choice so we just looked middle-aged, yet somehow I thought we were looking cool.
Tomasiello would have us read the bible and she would try to explain and justify the storyline, try to make sense of the rapes, or “taking” of wives, and the murders, and the other bizarre and seemingly unholy occurrences that the chapters told of. She would try to engage us by focusing on the sex and drama, but the class was still endlessly boring, like a daytime soap opera.
One particularly unbearable day the boy next to me was reading the graffiti carved into his wooden desk in big letters. “Suck me off,” He lasciviously read the words to the girl behind him as he laid his head on the desk and stuck out his tongue in a suggestive manner. “That’s gross,” she said with matter of fact distain, peering at him through her oversized plastic framed glasses. Being the naive freshman that I was, I did not know what that phrase meant. I knew that we all used the expression “suck” as in you suck and that sucks but the “off” confused me. I made a mental note to ask a friend to fill me in.
We were all bored and distracted as Tomasiello rambled away. Then one kid got the great idea of trying to distract her from the boring lesson by asking her off topic questions. She tried skirting around them but then he asked her if exorcisms were real and Tomasiello took the bait. She got all excited about the topic and started telling us everything she knew about exorcisms, which was way more interesting than the bible, to us and to her. She even looked around before tiptoeing to the back of the room to close the classroom door so that we could talk off topic candidly without getting “caught”. Class got fun as Thomasiello told us all kinds or gory details which she claimed were indeed real, as she had seen and heard about some shocking events. She even promised to bring in photos. As interesting as things got, when the bell finally rang we all jumped up as fast as always to get out of there.
In the end, Tomasiello never did remember to bring the photos. Eventually, I was enlightened as to what the carved phrase and the word “off” was referring to.