‘The World’s Oldest Living Altar Boy’

(In a recent post about potential sneaker endorsements for Pope Francis, I mentioned that years ago I had been “the Oldest Altar Boy Ever (details to come).” So here they are.)

I grew up on New York’s Upper East Side before it was the Upper East Side.


169 East 89th Street.

Third Avenue El. Three-room apartment. Six kids. (Two reasons we thanked God the old man traveled a lot for his job with American Airlines.)

Bunk beds, chair bed, fold-out couch. The only place we didn’t sleep was on top of the refrigerator (which was in what we laughingly called the living room).

Regardless . . .

My grammar school was St. Ignatius Loyola (on 84th), but my parish was St. Thomas More (on 89th), where I was a choir boy (until they found some kids who could actually sing) and an altar boy.

Seven o’clock Mass was brutal, but the money was good at funerals and weddings. Unfortunately, at one wedding the groom gave me a dollar instead of the usual five, so I waited for him at the curbside limo and said A buck? You cheap bastard!

Penny wise, pound foolish as it turned out. I didn’t do another wedding for a very long time.

Regardless . . .

In 8th grade I took the test for Regis High (right across the street from St. Iggys) . . . and failed it.

I also took the test for Bronx Science (the best high school in the city) . . . and passed it.

Excellent, yes?

Not so fast.

My folks said no way I was going to a non-Catholic high school.

Fine, I said. I’ll go to Cardinal Spellman, which at the time was the academic equivalent of a Ford factory.

Over my dead body, said Jackie’s Agnes.

(That was my Mom. The old man and both his brothers married women named Agnes. So it was Jackie’s Agnes, Dan’s Agnes, and Sonny’s Agnes – who, God love her, is still alive at age 99. I also had an Aunt Cissy, a cousin named Brother, and a godfather named Boyfriend Johnny Cullen.

(Best. Nickname. Ever.)

Regardless . . .

Jackie’s Agnes said, you’re going to Fordham Prep just like that nice Jimmy Schnell up the block (whose mother Grace was the finest woman – outside of Jackie’s Agnes and the Missus – I ever knew).

But in 1967 Fordham Prep’s tuition was $400 a year, which was about $399 more than Jackie’s Agnes had to spare.

So she trundled up to St. Thomas More and finagled me an Altar Boy Scholarship out of Bishop Furlong, the head of the parish.

Translation: Four years of indentured religious servitude.

By the time I was 17, the cassock (long black thing) was way too short for me, and the surplice (short white thing) looked like something Britney Spears would wear on tour.

Not a pretty sight.

Then fate intervened. After a decade of pretend house-hunting – Sunday jaunts to New Jersey and Long Island that gave us false hope we might actually escape 169 – the old man finally pulled the trigger and moved the family to the Hartford area where he had been working the previous 18 months, spending weekdays there (Praise Jesus!) and weekends in the city.

They left.

I stayed.

And moved to the Bronx, where I sort of (a whole nother story) lived with Uncle Buster and Aunt Evvie – childhood friends of the old man and Jackie’s Agnes.

Which meant I was no longer in St. Thomas More’s parish, and no longer the World’s Oldest Living Altar Boy.

Say it with me:



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3 Responses to ‘The World’s Oldest Living Altar Boy’

  1. Awesome. Why do you write anything else?

    Three Agneses is fabulous. My wife, nice Methodist girl from The West, always gets a kick out of the names and the sheer numbers of cousins here in the old country.

    My grandfather and his brother married two sisters (no, not their own sisters, thanks) so the cousin situation was nuts. At the first family function she attended, my wife said, “So…you have 400 cousins, and four names?”

  2. Pingback: ‘The World’s Oldest Living Altar Boy’ II (St. Thomas More – or Less – Edition) | Campaign Outsider

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