Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Rare Footage of Clem Caraboolad

HT: Bob Rogers via Fr. Jim King.

What a gem I have found! This is a 1986 graduation speech given to Archbishop Hoban High School in Akron, Ohio by one of my former teachers, Mr. Caraboolad.

I was Mr. C's student for three years at Walsh Jesuit High School in what is now Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio (from 1979-1981). Clemens J. Caraboolad was a unique teacher, a giant of a man, a shimmering intellect, an electric speaker, a poet, a philosopher, a theologian, and a living saint. Believe it or not, fans of A Confederacy of Dunces may be shocked to learn that Clem Caraboolad actually taught geometry and theology.

He was a huge fan of heavy metal music, and his room (Room 110) blared highly amplified music that could be heard (and felt) throughout the school. He was into Pink Floyd (of course), Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, the Easy Rider Soundtrack, and an occasional dive into the Beatles, Stones, and The Who, as well as the au courant AC/DC and The Cars. He had a stack of vinyl albums and a turntable on his desk. I bought my first album, Pink Floyd's The Wall (referenced in the above speech) on 8-track cassette back in 1979 while a freshman in Mr. C's class.

I sat in a bucket car-seat on the floor with my left ear next to one of the speakers. Amazingly, my right ear is the one that doesn't seem to work as well as the other.

The room was "decorated" in foosball tables, dartboards, an old rug we were encouraged to write on, rock posters, and a large movie poster from the Easy Rider. There was a huge beer-tab chain lining the ceiling, as well as bar-room paraphernalia (neon lights and such). One would occasionally find things like chrome bumpers and ragged couches in the mix.

He taught an aggressive curriculum of four days on, one day off. So, if we had our work done by Thursday, Friday was spent listening to music and playing foos. I can't remember any week in which we didn't get our Friday. We also played a form of seated volleyball that made use of a huge wad of tape that must have weighed five pounds ("wadball") and had miniature car races (I was the champion one year). Mr. C always retained his sense of humor and his joie de vivre. Sometimes we would analyze song lyrics looking for theological or philosophical interpretations.

He loved teaching, and would often light up in a genuine full-faced smile of wonder and exclaim in his commanding baritone: "Isn't that absolutely amazing?"

He lectured on how to apply geometry to shooting pool, and brought his Harley into the classroom as an illustration (teaching us the geometry in internal combustion engines). His students excelled in mathematics. We learned how to prove equations by way of Clem's encouragement for us to have "proof parties."

And Clem was beloved by all: students, parents, administration, and faculty, including the cranky old librarian known as "Ma" Webster, and even our stuffy, prissy, prim-and-proper English teacher, Mr. Gavlinsky. Clem could walk in many circles - from the leather-and-denim motorcycle crowd (his chopper-creating brother-in-law "Pusher John" came to visit us once in class) to suited professors, and black-shirted clergy (he once ate at the restaurant that I worked in while in high school surrounded by a passel of white-habited sisters). He could grasp complex mathematical concepts and teach them, as well as wax eloquently about philosophy and theology. He could also curse like a sailor when it fit his purposes (he was a football coach, and our school was all-male). In fact, the first words I ever heard him speak were: "There's no ****-ing chalk!"

He would sometimes wear jeans to school (we students were not permitted to wear jeans), typically had longish hair, and was often wearing a leather flight jacket. In some pictures, it was hard to pick him out of a line-up of his own students. He rode his Harley to school, and parked it outside his classroom window.

Mr. C. knew how to inspire. He was beloved because he loved. There was nothing the man would not do for another human being. And there was nothing his students would not do for him. One chair in the classroom was off limits. It represented an empty chair of a student who had many years before committed suicide. Mr. C. wrote his home phone number on the wall and told us to call him any time, 24-7, if we ever got into any kind of trouble.

Since my name began with "B", I was assigned to room 110 as my home room for my entire time at Walsh. The year after I left (I graduated early from public school after a stint of summer school), he went on to become the head football coach at our rival Hoban High School. Within a year, he turned their football team into winners. One of his students was Olympic champion Butch Reynolds, who credited Caraboolad as his inspiration.

After graduating, I once rode my own motorcycle over to Mr. C's house (he lived about a half mile from my dad). We had a lovely visit. We caught up on old times and talked about deep theological topics. In fact, Mr. C. was an expert in Eastern Religions and had written a text on Zen Buddhism. His fondness for Buddha and Hinduism made me wonder if he were a syncretist. I asked him point blank if he believed God made several trips to the world as Eastern religions teach. He emphatically said "no." It was Jesus' resurrection that convinced Mr. C. that Christianity was the only true religion, though he felt the other religions did have things to teach us. Jesus is, Mr. C. confessed unequivocally, the only instance of divine incarnation. And he is our only hope of salvation.

Not long after my visit, Mr. C. died. He was only in his forties. It seems that he suffered from arthritis (when I saw him the last time, his hand had become gnarled), and it seems that the meds he took to battle the crippling pain caused a heart attack. His students and colleagues in two schools were stunned and grieving at his being taken from us - especially at such a young age.

His wake was held at a local funeral home. His Harley, jacket, and a football were wheeled in as heavy metal music was played. His funeral itself was held in Akron's St. Bernard Church - a gigantic traditional edifice. It was standing room only. There was no rock music, but rather a quartet playing Pachelbel's canon. There was a eulogy, and the eulogist had in his hand what was found on Mr. C.'s desk after his passing: the lyrics to Pink Floyd's On the Turning Away - which was read solemnly. It is a song that calls us to treat one another with love and exhorts us us not merely to words but to deeds, a call for us to put our faith into action - a common theme in Blessed Clemens's teaching.

It remains a great privilege for me to call myself a student of Clemens J. Caraboolad.


Gary Moneysmith said...

Very cool videos! I was a student @ Walsh from 85-89. Clem was a hero even then. It's great to read your blog post to learn more about the living giant. To be honest, I feel like I missed our on a piece of the Walsh experience when I hear about him. Alas, it challenges me to live up to his legend. Thanks!

Kevin said...

I had the distinct pleasure and honor of having Clem Caraboolad as my Geometry teacher in 1974 at Walsh Jesuit. He and his methods of teaching were truly unique. You learned a lot while at the same time having a lot of fun. I was deeply saddened when I learned of his passing. Though I don't believe his methods would be welcomed at Walsh now, the students of the Caraboolad era are much richer as a result of what they learned both mathematically and spiritually.

- Kevin G.
Walsh Jesuit Class of 1977

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Gary and Kevin: Good to hear from fellow Walshmen. I suspect you're right, Kevin. Clem Caraboolad might well not have been tolerated today. Times have changed. I'm glad I had the privilege, that God put me in the right place at the right time to be a part of the Walsh brotherhood and to be a student of Mr. C. I would not trade that for anything in the world. I believe Clem's work goes on through his students, and there is a little bit of Clem in my own teaching.

Sean said...

I'm in awe. Clem was my uncle. I only remember meeting him a few times. But he is and was so greatly revered in the family. I went to Walsh's twin in Toledo, St. Johns. I was a freshman when he died, and teachers were offering condolences. He has become sort of a warning for the brevity of life. I'm glad I got to see this video and glimpse his humanity. Thank you.

Pete said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pete said...

I too think Mr.C. was the best. One small thing always intrigued me: I was in the class of '76 and in those days we used to have a tricycle race around the school's triangle driveway. One year Mr. C. won the race and for headgear he wore a German WWII Army helmet. After the race, he handed the helmet to me to hold while he got up off his tricycle. I looked inside and there was an old black and white photo of good old Eva Braun! Weird, but such fun attention to detail. Even wierder that I'd remember that.