The Dark Path
A Memoir
David Schickler
There are passages here that can be as entertaining as hell. David and Daphne decide to win the faculty competition at his Academy by dancing to the tune of Carlos Gardel's tango:

    We're off. Our bodies move like a shared fate over the lawn. I've never held her tighter. The violin is a heat between us and the piano notes are little cracks from a whip at our feet. The crowd might still be here, nearby, but I wouldn't know it, because Daphne's breasts are against my chest, her legs move with mine, and our eyes are locked together, having a once-in-a-lifetime pillow talk.

There are other moments with lovers and would-be lovers as good as the tango. One sweetie in New York wants him to choke her to (near) death as they are diddling on the floor. Another bites a good hunk out of his arms with her choppers ... so much so that his mother observes the marks and comments, "Lord in heaven ... Biting people to the point of trauma is romantic now?"

David Schickler is neither a saint nor a sinner; more, a traitor. He certainly is with his various loves that he leads on so he can dump them at the last moment. His life has been plagued --- as was that of the Biblical Job --- by travails from within and without, along with certain madnesses (including a fierce desire to be a Jesuit). This Urge for the Holy forces him to call time-out when his love Mara wants to make with the beast with two backs. He goes only so far, then demands that she stop right now because of his possible holy calling.

In the old days, we referred to this as a "tease," but it was mostly reserved for women who were pretending to save the juicy prize for the wedding night. Mara (and the reader) put up with David's self-imposed purity for awhile, but finally she gets fed up and goes off with a big Hawaiian who seems more interested in making whoopee rather than making holy. We, the loyal readers and reviewers, soldier on.

Throughout The Dark Path David has long complicated dialogues with God, filled with those endless Dostoevskian conundrums about a divine who can create such pain (innocent babies dying in agony etc etc) --- questions that endlessly nagged Camus and Heidegger and Nietzsche and their ilk. But we are led to believe, however, that once Schickler dons the robes, it will give him earthly happiness as the friendly padre we have all come to know and love since we first saw Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald in Going My Way.

But, alas, as I say, he's a tease. Just as David seems to be on the road to eternal salvation, he goes to visit Father Tillermacher in Georgetown. The good father has been advising him for a time on the best way to make his divine Jesuitical mission. When David gives Father T. the "customary parting hug,"

    he squeezes my right ass cheek in his left fist and he holds on for ten seconds past what would be an acceptable football-field or locker-room ass slap from a coach to a player.

    Wait, I think. What's this, wait, wait ---

    As he holds my ass, I hear a rushing in my ears, like in a cartoon when a character freezes solid, whoosh, because ice wind is blasting him.

Dear Lord! Whoosh? All this for an extra ten-second ass-grasp. What planet did this guy come from?

§   §   §

If I were editor at Riverhead, there would be a few things I would want to cut in The Dark Path. The first would be the long italicised dialogues with God. These are neither enlightening nor necessary for the progress of David's tale. Too, we would cut out a few of the endless examples of guilt. Guilt, as we all know, is the best excuse to make one a dilatory player in the game of life ... especially in matters of the flesh. (We don't need too many passages to convince us that Davis is right up there with Hamlet, St. Augustine and Fr. Hopkins in the maybe-I-should maybe-I-shouldn't department.)

Also, we might change the title. It refers to a patch of woods near the house David grew up in, in Rochester, just off the 11th hole of the local golf course. It's a dark patch, and as you go by, you can see "the low, forever shadows among the trees."

    For me, God is in that darkness. He's not a devil, or a tree, or a wood sprite. He's the Lord, he just happens to be in darkness. I feel restful knowing He's there and I love Him, but I can't explain why I find Him where I do. I'm afraid to try. I'm afraid it's wrong. And I'm afraid that if I go talking about how God is in the darkness, He will leave it and I'll be alone.

David, we learn soon enough, is a master of wretched excess. He's so entranced by Tai Tae Wong that he permanently disables himself, screwing up a muscle in his leg; whenever pain attacks, he falls to the ground and goes through contortions to make it stop hurting (a chiropractor taught him that one.) He also has fairly frequent (and fairly powerful) panic attacks that, at times, threaten to kill him. Schickler blames it all on the Dark Path, but the truth of the matter is that it may have come from other preoccupations. And he (and his book) (and all of us) might have been better off if he had dubbed it Coitus Interruptus, because that's what David is best at. Loving up the ladies ... and then I'm so sorry, I've got another Agenda that I almost forgot about: His name is God. I know you'll understand.

This leads us back to poor old Father Tillermacher. With all the space given over to that ten-second bottom-pinch, you'd think that David's sudden decision to drop the priesthood might be termed overkill. A better course would have been for him to take responsibilty for his being a tease (as he is with the ladies); more, we wonder why he just didn't go ahead and sleep with the poor old horny priest so they both could have gotten on with their lives.

David, when all is said and done, is not only a tease, but a traitor. For this reader, the ultimate act of treachery comes not with the women who get het up (then rejected), or even with the good father, but with Drake.

Drake is a stand-offish student, one that David is teaching at prep school. He's so standoffish that David decides to befriend him. Then,

    I give my sophomores their creative writing assignment, a two-page fictional story. I tell them that fiction can be real, it can be the truth, even though it doesn't happen. I tell them that it can be a lens, a prism, for witnessing and clarifying what's vital in the world.

So what happens? This distant, obviously isolated, certainly troubled student hands in an essay in which he tells of cutting his English teacher and the headmaster to pieces, taking a Kalashnikov to the other, "fake" students. David is shocked (the essay is rather bloody). He goes to the headmaster, shows it to him, and the two of them decide that Drake is a dangerous psychopath, that his parents must be called, that he has to be turned out of school.

David proves (once again) that he cannot even be a friend to a friendless student. Drake gets stiffed because --- like David's many frustrated girlfriends --- he tried to get close to him, failed ... and got booted

--- Lolita Lark