May is supposed to be a merry month, going back as far as Elizabethan dramatist Thomas Dekker, who wrote the deathless lines:
O, the month of May, the merry month of May,
So frolic, so gay, and so green, so green, so green!
But that’s not how I remember it.
The monthly grade school assembly for April when I was growing up was customarily closed with the announcement that May was Correct Posture Month, and thus would begin a reign of terror that recalled Robespierre, if you knew who the hell Robespierre was.
“Good posture can bite me!”
“So let’s all try and stand up straight all through the month of May!” Father Laudick would urge us in a genial tone, and his cordon of nefarious henchmen (as Rocky and Bullwinkle would call them) would then embark upon a program of vicarious vindictiveness that recalled the murder of St. Thomas a Becket by three knights of Henry II who happened to hear him say “Will no one rid me of this turbulent posture freak?”
“A cordon of nefarious henchmen?”
And so May would come in with a program of enforced good posture, leaving the bookish, the lazy and the just plain indifferent exposed to a program of rolling enforcement similar to “stop and frisk” in the ghetto; your every movement was the subject of unwanted scrutiny, and you risked both harassment for conduct that violated no law and punishment if you resisted a command to pull your shoulders back and suck in your gut.
The lay teachers at a Catholic school typically operate at a disadvantage, like eunuchs in a seraglio. They have no authority to enforce the canon law of the church except by proxy, and so they seize on non-liturgical rules with the sadistic fervor of a chain gang guard. “Do you know what month this is?” Mrs. Kennedy or Miss Imhauf might say as they brandished a weapon of classroom control in their hands.
“Why no, I don’t,” a young wag might reply. “Is it . . . Girl Scout Cookie Mon–OW!”
With the rubber tip of a chalkboard pointer buried into your clavicle, you stood up straight whether you wanted to or not.
It wasn’t the strict enforcement of Correct Posture Month that used to get my goat so much as the patent unfairness of it all; School Library Month was April, and if you wanted to be able to show your face when the roll of those who’d completed their reading list was called up yonder on the auditorium stage, you had to get busy.
“You want me to use this on you? Well–do you?”
But reading, as any bibliophile will tell you, produces bad posture. H.L. Mencken, surely one of the 20th century’s most voracious readers, wore his bad posture as a badge of honor, referring in his later years to his “matronly” figure.
The harpies and the harridans of good posture, when confronted with this irrefutable argument, would appeal to a boy’s native sense of emulation. “Don’t you want to be a big, strong athlete?” they’d say. What boy could refute the implications of that loaded question?
Stan Musial, slouching towards first.
Well, I could. “How about Stan Musial?” I’d fire right back. “He slumps back in his stance for power. When he uncoils from his crouch, he . . .”
At this point reinforcements would be called in, usually Sister Mary Clarus, the Precious Blood sister known as the enforcer of good posture because of the power of her “monkey bite” grip on your elbow that would send you into paroxysms of pain.
Mussolini: Good posture is a leading indicator of pure evil.
But there were larger, real-world counter-examples. Leaders of the Axis powers–Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito–all were good posture fanatics. “You wouldn’t me to grow up to snuff out the bright light of democracy–would you?”
That always gave the posture-powers-that-be . . . or were . . . pause.
“You know, Sister,” Mrs. Ilmberger would say to Sister Mary Joseph McCarthy, “he has a point.”
To which the Higher Power of the Hall Passes would say, “Yes–but if he combs his hair right, nobody will notice.”