“Did you know that your friend’s dad is an infidel?” Mrs. Francis Finnegan asked me, as I stood at the door of their home. This was not an unusual greeting from Mrs. Finnegan. It was the greeting I received whenever Mrs. Francis Finnegan had some topic of the day to cover. I called it her headline hello.
Mrs. Finnegan may have met me at the door with more traditional forms of greeting in the beginning. If she did, I don’t remember it. She may have used a more traditional, “Hello! How are you doing?” greeting with other people, but I never saw it. As far as I was concerned, she greeted everyone at the door with a provocative introduction to the discussion of the day. A provocative introduction similar to those used by newspaper editors to draw attention to a story.
“It’s mister smoker!” she said to introduce me to the discussion the Finnegan family would have on another day, regarding my smoking. “It’s the heavy metal dude!” she said on another day to introduce me to the Finnegan family discussion that would involve my decision to wear a jean jacket, a t-shirt of whatever band I was listening to at the time, and jeans, or as she put it ‘my heavy metal dude gear’. I was fair game for these family discussions, she informed me, because I had such a heavy influence on her beloved son. She also informed me that with the state of my home, I was in need of some guidance.
This ‘Your best friend’s dad is an infidel’ greeting informed me that the Finnegan family discussion of the day would involve a detailed account of her husband’s recent business trip to Las Vegas, in which “he happened to get himself some (girl)”. The word ‘girl’ is written here, in place of the more provocative ‘P’ word that Mrs. Finnegan used to describe Greg Finnegan’s act of adultery.
Mrs. Finnegan was a religious woman that used profanity or vulgarity sparingly. She reserved those words for moments when she needed to an extra special spear to wound the pride of the subject of her scorn, and those times when she felt she needed to pique the ears of the listener. She also used these words with a dose of ‘look what you’ve caused me to do with your actions!’ plea in her voice to further subject the subject of her violation to greater shame.
Hearing her use such a vulgar word was not as shocking to me as hearing her use the word ‘infidel’ in an incorrect manner. As a self-described word nerd, Mrs. Finnegan prided herself on proper word usage. She informed me on another occasion, half-joking, that I was her apprentice. I took this as the compliment it was, in the beginning, but as the years went by, I began to believe she said to it relieve her of whatever guilt she may have felt for correcting every word that came out of my mouth. There were times when I was almost afraid to say anything around her, lest I be corrected, but for the most part, I was an eager student of her mastery of the language.
My initial thought was that the turmoil of this moment had caused her the faux pas, but her diction was so proper and refined that I didn’t think she was capable of a slip. She spoke in a manner, at times, that I thought violated the conventions of our language. I would go home, look it up, and see that she was correct. Even during the most tumultuous moments, the woman managed to mind her rules of usage well. Thus, when she made the error of attributing the word infidel to her husband’s act of infidelity, I assumed that the slip up was intended to pique the interest of the listener in the manner her sparing use of profanity and vulgarity could. Either that, I thought, or she was attempting to creatively conflate the incorrect use of the word, and the correct one, in a manner that suggested that her husband had not only violated his vows to her, but his vows to God.
My friend James had been sitting on the couch, next to his father, when I was allowed entrance into the Finnegan home. The two of them were a portrait of shame. They looked like Puggles, sitting in the corner of the room after having made a mess on the carpet.
James mouthed a quick ‘Hi!’ at me. He pumped his head up momentarily to issue that greeting, and he then resumed his shame position of looking at a designated spot on the carpet.
“Mr. Finnegan, decided to go out to Vegas and get him some (girl)!” Mrs. Finnegan said when I entered the living room. I had not had enough time to sit at that point. When I did, I sat as slow as the tension in the room allowed, an air that did not permit quick motions.
“Tell him Greg,” she said.
“France, I don’t think we should be airing our dirty laundry in front of outsiders,” Greg Finnegan complained. The idea that he had been crying prior to my entrance was evident. His eyes were rimmed red, and they were moist. He did not, however, look up at Francis, or me, when he complained. He, like James, remained fixated on his own designated spot on the carpet.
France was the name she grew up with, and she hated it. It was the name her immediate family members called her, and her husband. She had very few adult friends, but to those people she was Francis. To everyone else, she was Mrs. Finnegan. She may have allowed others to call her less formal names, but I never heard it. Mrs. Finnegan was not a person that permitted informalities.
“NO!” Mrs. Finnegan yelled. That yell was so forceful that had there been any actual Puggles in the room, they would’ve raced from it, regardless if they were the subject of her scorn or not.
“No, he has to learn,” she said pointing at me, while looking at her husband. “Just like your son needs to learn, just like every man needs to learn the evil ways of their nature.”
This display was followed by an actual, physical display, brought into the living room by the daughter. The daughter appeared as unemotional about this particular event as she had all the events that occurred in the Finnegan home. She was more of an observer to the goings on in the Finnegan home than a participant. She rarely offered an opinion, unless it backed up her mother’s assessments and characterizations, and she was never the subject of her mother’s scorn. She was the dutiful daughter, and she walked into the room, carrying the display, in that vein. She carefully positioned it on living room table and pulled the supports out so that it could stand without manual support. She lit all of the candles on the physical displays, and she sat.
Mrs. Finnegan allowed the physical display of Greg Finnegan’s shame to rest on the living room table for a moment without comment. It was a multi-tiered, wood framed, structure with open compartments that allowed for wallet-sized photos. The structure of the frame was also constructed in a manner of a triangle, but anyone that looked around the Finnegan home knew of Mrs. Finnegan’s fondness for pyramids. It was a triangle that was intended to feed into Mrs. Finnegan’s fascination with pyramids. It didn’t have the full dimensions of a pyramid, but the supports behind it allowed it to rest at such an angle that it appeared to be one side of a pyramid.
Before this day began, Mrs. Finnegan had managed to gather enough unique photos of the “harlot, slut, home wrecker” to fill each of the compartments in the pyramid, so that the bottom level had five photos, the next level up had four, and so on, until one arrived at a single photo at the top. Each photo had a lit, votive candle before it to give the shrine of Greg Finnegan’s shame an almost holy vibe.
“It’s the pyramid of shame,” Mrs. Finnegan informed me with a confrontational smile. “What do you think of it? The frame was Greg’s gift to me on my birthday. Isn’t it lovely? I’m thinking of placing it in our bedroom. I’m thinking of placing it in a just such a position that if Greg is ever forced to have sex with me again-” (Except she didn’t say sex. She said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the “F-dash-dash-dash” word.) “-he can look at those pictures while he’s (sexing) me. Do you think that will help your performance honey?” she asked her husband.
There was an inopportune knock at the door. The Finnegan duplex was constructed in such a manner that when the drapes were open, those inside the Finnegan home could see the knocker. We saw the knocker. It was Andy, the third party of the adventure James and I had planned for the night.
“Welcome to the home of Greg Finnegan, the adulterer and infidel,” Mrs. Finnegan said after leaping to her feet to beat all the people that were racing to the door, except no one was racing. We were all ensconced in the shame of our gender. We were all staring at our own designated spots on the carpet. “Come on in,” she said to Andy.
Andy left. He just turned and walked back down the steps, got in his car, and drove away. Just like that, Andy escaped all that I was forced to endure. He didn’t respond to Mrs. Finnegan’s greeting. He didn’t go out of his way to be respectful to her, one of his elders, but he really wasn’t disrespectful either. He just turned and left.
I didn’t know we could do that, I thought watching Andy leave.
I knew what I was in for, before I entered the home. Andy knew what he was in for. His departure was not only bold, as far as I was concerned. It was unprecedented. I didn’t know we could do that.
I would ask him about it later. I would say “Why did you do that?” when my greater question was how could you do that? He informed me that he didn’t want to go through all that again with her. I gave a “Well, of course, but …” response. His reaction wasn’t any more complicated than that, and I realized that I would have to do a much better job of evaluating my options in life.
When the confessional phase of the Finnegan family conversation began –a confessional that required Mr. Finnegan to confess to me what he had done– I looked out that window and imagined that I had evaluated my options as well as Andy had, and the two of us were now in Andy’s car driving away, laughing at the lunacy of these people. I imagined that I would call them platypus people at one point in our round of jokes, and that that would eventuate into a laugh riot at the Finnegan family’s expense.
‘What is a platypus,’ I imagined myself saying to expound upon our laughter, ‘but an animal that defies all categorizations. One look at them, informs the world of science that they should fall into a category, until they do what they do to prove the scientific community wrong. Further study only yields more surprises with the classification defying animal, until even the most seasoned naturalist throws their hands up.
‘The platypus was even thought to be a joke when it was first introduced to the world,’ I would elaborate. ‘It was introduced in an era when naturalists would regularly stitch together body parts of different animals to leave the curious world with the notion that the naturalist had discovered an entirely new species. When the platypus was introduced to the world, it was believed that the platypus was an elaborate hoax of taxidermy in that vein.
‘Those that wouldn’t fall for this platypus hoax, even had a tough time believing it was an actual species when they saw a live one.’ I figured that I might have a tough time selling the ‘Finnegan Family are platypus people’ joke to Andy, for he may have considered my tales to be creative stories with stitched together details, or a story I enhanced with exaggerated details for the purpose of telling one hell of a story. He might not even believe it if he saw it for himself, I imagined while listening to Mr. Finnegan’s confession.
The introduction of Mr. Finnegan’s confession involved Mrs. Finnegan informing me that Mr. Finnegan had already confessed his transgression to his children, and that he would be required to offer this confession to any other friend, mailman, or traveling salesman that happened upon their door that day. I was informed to look at her when she said this, and we did. I was forced to acknowledge that the only reason the Finnegans married in the first place had to do with the fact that no one else would play with young Mr. Finnegan’s reproductive organ, except she didn’t say reproductive organ.
“He was lonely,” she said with tones of derision. “Mr. eighty dollars an hour consultant fee, and Mr. professional student with eight degrees would be nothing without me, because he was nothing when he met me. He was a lonely, little man with nothing to do but play with his little computer products, designs, and his little reproductive organ when no one else would.”
“That’s enough France,” Greg said standing.
“Do you play with your reproductive organ?” Mrs. Finnegan asked me, undeterred by Greg’s act of defiance. “Do you masturbate? Because that’s where it all starts. It all starts with you men, and all of your pornographic material, imaging that someday someone will come along and want to play with your reproductive organ.
“You think it’s about love?” she asked. She had a huge smile on her face. She was aghast at a statement I hadn’t made. “You think every couple has a story of love, and dating, and that hallowed first kiss? Go rent a gawdamned Meg Ryan movie if you want all that. And once that love conquers all movie is over, you come to Mrs. Finnegan with your questions, and she’ll introduce you to some reality. I’ll tell you the tales of men, grown men that marry because they’re desperate to find someone to play with their reproductive organ. Isn’t that right Mr. Finnegan?” She called after him, once he mustered up the courage to walk away from her. When he wouldn’t answer, or even turn to acknowledge her, she took off after him.
It was not a feat of strength for Mrs. Finnegan to push her husband down a flight of stairs. We didn’t see it, but we figured that he may have been off balance, as a result of his refusal to turn and face her in his flight to the basement. He was not expecting to be pushed down the flight of about twenty stairs. We did see her pull him up the stairs, however, as we all came running to the top of the stairs when the sounds of him hitting the stairs shook the house in such a manner that we all put a hand on the armrests of the furniture to brace ourselves.
We did hear Mrs. Finnegan’s scream when she pushed Mr. Finnegan down the stairs, and it was a shriek that let you know that whatever frayed vestige of sanity she had clung to for much of her life, had just snapped. We could not hear her obscenity laced grumblings, as she pulled him up the stairs by his hair. Those grumblings were drowned out by the screams of her husband and her children.
“France!” Greg screamed in pain. “France, for God’s sakes!” he screamed over and over.
I saw her face, as she approached us at the top of the stairs, and it was a display of rage that I can only guess that those not engaged in some sort of civil service work see once in a lifetime. She was lifting a six-five, two-hundred pound man up the stairs, by his hair, with one hand. Her body blocked any view we might have had of Greg Finnegan, but I had to assume that he was back-stepping the stairs to relieve some of the pain of having his hair pulled in such a manner, and thus assisting her in pulling him up, but it was still an impressive display of strength fueled by a scary visage of rage.
She was in such a state, once she reached the top step, and she was standing in the kitchen, with her children trying to calm her, she couldn’t speak. The master of language couldn’t think up a word to say, and when she finally did, it came out as gibberish. She would later say that that gibberish was as a result of her being overcome by spirits. She believed that that gibberish that came out of her, once she escaped the catatonic state, was her speaking in tongues. She believed that that divine intervention had prevented her from further harming her husband, in a manner similar to the divine intervention that prevented Abraham from harming his son Isaac. I believed it too, at first, in the heat of the moment, but I would later learn that I had just witnessed my first psychotic episode.
I don’t know what happened in the aftermath of this incident, in the Finnegan home, as I never entered into the Finnegan home again, but I do know that the Finnegan marriage survived it, and I can only guess –based on what I knew of Mrs. Finnegan– that it was all about that intervention, the divine one, as opposed to the one by the civil servants that had been called. I’m quite sure that if any future visitors of the Finnegan home doubted Mrs. Finnegan’s assessment of the situation, they would be greeted at the door with a “Welcome to the home of the divine intervention!” headline hello to introduce them to that Finnegan family discussion of that day. If those potential, future visitors were to come to me for advice on this matter, I would tell them to weigh their options before entering.