Monday, December 28, 2009

Part 19: My Summer Vacation (aka Death Race 1972)

"Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
they have to take you in"

~ Robert Frost

"You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country ... back home to the father you have lost and have been looking for, back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time"
~ Thomas Wolfe

Well, I had to go "home" sometime and that time had come. I knew that traditionally kids were supposed to hate school and love summer vacation but I couldn't help but feel like I was headed for prison. I knew it wasn't going to be pleasant but I wasn't expecting the onslaught of misery.

Picking me up at the airport my parents were surprised to discover that I had grown 6 inches. I came home clad in capris and a 3/4 length sleeve shirt, which was not a popular style for boys in the 70's. Mom looked at me and said "we're going to have to get some new clothes made for you". Dad exploded.
"We just bought him new clothes last year!"

Here we go

"When I was a kid we didn't get new clothes, they were handed down from my older brother and sister!"

So, did you go to school wearing your sister's old dresses? Or just when you did the chores?
(this I mumbled under my breath - I had been training to be a smart ass under the expert tutelage of Pat Dillon - besides I was out of arms reach)

Fortunately Dad didn't hear me. Mom said "He's the oldest. There isn't anyone to give him their hand me downs."
She looked at my feet and said "and he needs some new shoes too."
Gasoline on the fire.

"When I was kid we wore the shoes till the soles fell off! When they got too small we slit holes in the leather so our toes could hang out!"

I sat in silence, flabbergasted. Sometimes there was no worthy response.

Driving towards Tacloban we made a left turn at the Coca-Cola bottling plant as they had neglected to mention that we had moved from the Bethany Hospital compound to a house on the far edge of town. Our new house was at the end of a long dirt road, surrounded by fields and coconut trees. It was very quiet and secluded and I missed the hustle and bustle of Hospital life. Now, when I needed to get away, there was no where to go. No calamansi grove, no comote field. I missed the little hospital canteen, and the bakery across the street from our old home.

Somewhat smaller than our previous home, the new house had two bedrooms upstairs, a large one for my parents and one huge one for Auring, the girl college students and my brothers. There was a landing just at the top of the steps where my parents had their desk and bookshelves. The main floor consisted of the sala, the dining room, the kitchen and oddities of oddities, a stairway leading to a basement. This is where I would be sleeping. But where was my stuff? Like the proverbial kid whose parents rent out his room, any vestiges of my existence had been removed. I had only been gone nine months and there was nothing left. My books and toys were all gone. I felt like a guest in my own home.

That night over supper I eagerly tried to tell the stories of my first year at boarding school: Boy Scouts, plays, classes, friends. Two things became immediately apparent: Dad was completely disinterested, his only comment an occasional snort of disbelief. The second was that everyone else had a hard time relating to my experiences. Gradually I learned not to talk about it. Things were different. They didn't seem like my family anymore. I tried to fit back in to my old life, going to movies with Auring, Tony and the boys, but it didn't feel the same.
Was I gone that long? Had I changed so much?

When our new house was first built the basement flooded. The builder pumped out the water and just kept making the walls thicker until they stopped leaking, a full 3 feet thicker. This created a ledge all around the inside of the basement where you could lay or sit and look out the windows. On a hot night this was a cool place to sleep but you had to watch out for the centipedes. There were a lot of centipedes down there, big ones. On my first night there I woke in the middle of the night when something ran up my side. I exploded out of bed and discovered a 9 inch centipede. I now had a nightly ritual: take the bed apart, kill the centipedes that fall to the floor; remove the sheets and pillowcases and shake them out, kill the centipedes that fall to the floor; flip over mattress, kill the centipedes that fall to the floor. Remake bed carefully shaking out the sheets and killing any remaining centipedes. It was hard to get a good nights rest, I felt buggy all the time.

Shortly after I arrived I got my first letters ever and from girls no less! They would have to be answered. This proved difficult for me because erasable ink had not been perfected yet and there was no "backspace" key on my Bic pen. Spell check had to be done manually. Because I wanted the letters to be perfect, I had a trash can full of crumpled drafts.
"Don't you know
paper doesn't grow on trees!"

hmm, well if you don't count the trunk and the branches, technically I guess you are right.

Mrs. Hinakay showed up to measure me for shirts and pants and then we went to town to buy fabric. Dad decided that if I had time to get new clothes and to write I must need things to do, even if they really didn't need doing. The first thing he had me do was paint the new bodega that suspiciously looked like it had just been painted. Which it had, by Ric and Eddie only the month before. Then there was the daily chore of gathering the softball sized snails and dropping them in the corn sheller and grinding them up to feed the chickens. Another daily chore was pumping water by hand (even though we had an electric pump just for that purpose) into the water tower. Once that was done there was the job of making of seed sample kits. I really liked making them up and got quite fast at it. I kept making them till I ran out of bags. I think this was a job that Dad thought would keep me busy all summer, as there were hundreds to be made. It involved measuring out the seeds, inserting them into a small plastic bag with a typewritten slip of paper identifying the type of rice, then sealing the bag using a lighted candle. I think he was sorely disappointed when I had them done within a few weeks.

Because I was so industrious and ahead of schedule he decided to make a delivery of seed samples along with some fertilizer to the far southern end of the island. New roads had been built allowing him to drive there in about 8 hours. As I had missed out on the pleasure of his company for the last 9 months Mom decided I should go with him.

We left around 4 a.m. and made a quick stop just outside of town. Just as we were leaving, a chicken flew into our windshield and broke it's wing. Dad gave the owner ten pesos and we proceeded on. An ominous beginning to our trip. We had not gone more than a few miles when a pig ran out in front of us and we hit it too. Dad stopped again to try and find the owner. There was a melee going on around us, people running here and there, one carrying firewood, another carrying a long bamboo pole, others butchering the pig. No payment required, they were going to cook lechon. Dad gave them some money anyway. Back on the road, Dad was getting worried about our time table and glanced at his watch. That is when a dog ran out in front of our Land Cruiser and we hit it. And so it went the rest of the day, as we continued to rack up points and get further behind schedule. We finally reached our destination and delivered the fertilizer and seed sample packets. We had a quick meal and headed for home as Dad had a seminar to give the next day. We were way behind schedule, what with all the stopping to apologize and pay off the various animal owners. So far we had hit 3 chickens, 3 dogs, 3 pigs and a cat. It was getting kind of expensive too. Dad was running out of cash. The sun was beginning to set when up in the distance we see a dog sleeping in the middle of the road. Dad honks the horn and the dog does not stir. Dad honks again and keeps his hand down on the horn. We are coming up fast on the dog and just as he lifts his head to look at us, we ran him over. We don't stop. I slide down in my seat so I can't see out the window. It is very quiet in the jeep for twenty minutes or so.
"Dog must have been sick."

Later that night we hit a couple more dogs and pigs. It is late and Dad is out of cash, so he does not stop or slow down. We reached home around midnight, by which time we had run over a total of 14 animals. So ended
Death Race 1972.

One day in early July it started raining and it kind of never quit. Day after day, week after week. This was great because it drastically reduced the number of chores I had to do. We watched the water turn the fields around our home into ponds and then into lakes. The water rose up in the ditches, across the road, slipped under the gate and creeped up towards our front door. Tony, Rick & Eddy filled sandbags and stacked them across the garage floor and around the house. We began hearing reports of typhoons and terrible flooding on the main island Luzon. All roads to Baguio from the south were under water. Dad had some supplies to pick up so he decided to go with me up to Manila a week ahead of my scheduled release! I had served my time and won an unexpected reprieve!

So, armed with clothing that actually fit, I happily set out for Manila and back home.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Part 18: A Brush with Death

"Even very young children need to be informed about dying. Explain the concept of death very carefully to your child. This will make threatening him with it much more effective"

~ P.J. O' Rourke

"We are all so much together, but we are all dying of loneliness"
~ Albert Schweitzer

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."
~ Albert Einstein

Suddenly, just like that, the school year came to an end. In quick succession we had a couple of plays put on by students, faculty and parents, then we had Field Day, Sadie Hawkins Dance and final exams.

Months before, after the rains ceased, construction began on a theater stage addition to the back of the gym. Prior to that a temporary stage had to be built in the gym (or the small stage in the Auditorium in Amos Hall was used) and taken down again. The new addition provided storage for props and costumes, easy access to the lighting control booth and a new large locker room for the girls. It was completed just in time for simultaneous rehearsals of two plays!

Towards the end of April we put on a melodrama called "The Drunkard or The Fallen Saved" and Jaime and I had minor non speaking roles as "villagers". The audience was encouraged to "boo" the villain and cheer for the hero and heroine! I didn't have much on stage time, but I worked hard to be useful wherever I could.
This was my first time on stage and I loved it, but more than that I loved belonging to a group.

The Drunkard; or, The Fallen Saved is an American temperance play first performed in 1844. A drama in five acts, it was perhaps the most popular play produced in the United States before the dramatization of Uncle Tom's Cabin in the 1850s. In New York City, P.T. Barnum presented it for a run of over 100 performances.

In the 20th century, the dated melodrama made it a target of parody. In 1934, a production of The Drunkard was featured to comic effect in the W.C. Field's film The Old Fashioned Way. The following year another film was released called The Drunkard, a comedy-drama in which two theatrical producers present the play as a farce with their needy relatives in the cast. In 1940, Buster Keaton starred in another film parody, The Villain Still Pursued Her.

Just a short week later was the culmination of theater for the year: a Kurt Weill opera, titled "Down in the Valley". It was an American version of Romeo and Juliet, with lots of songs.

Brack Weaver falls in love with a girl, Jennie, after an Appalachian prayer meeting. But her father wants her to go to a dance with his shyster creditor, Thomas, who the father thinks will bail him out of his money troubles. Jennie disobeys and goes to the dance with Brack. At the dance, the villain gets drunk and threatens the hero with a knife. The two fight, the villain dies, and Brack is condemned to be hanged. On the night before his execution, he escapes to spend his last hours with Jennie, before turning himself in to meet his fate.

The principal actors in this play were parents and teachers with the students filling the non speaking roles. I had another walk on role (as did my girlfriend) as one of the "children". It was a fun role reversal, the teachers and parents on stage, watching them struggle with their lines, missing their cues, getting yelled at by the director. They were just like us!

I loved the play, the sets were wonderful and I loved the music, especially two songs; Brack Weaver, My True Love and the title song Down in the Valley which still echo in my head.

Field Day was an annual, day long, school wide event with each class competing against the other: catch a greased pig contest, relay and sack races, pillow fights, pie eating contests and climbing a greased pole. Lunch was provided by the school and served on the Neutral. Our little class was quickly eliminated by the older, bigger kids, but that gave us time to take advantage of the free food and drinks. We had a lot of fun. The pillow fights were especially exciting as we rooted for our favorites. Parents would come to the school and sit on the hill overlooking the soccer field and cheer the classes on. The last event of the day was when eligible guys were placed in the middle of the soccer field and then surrounded by girls. At the sound of the whistle the girls frantically fought to grab the guy they wanted to take to the dance. It was kind of scary actually. I didn't give the Sadie Hawkins part of the day much thought, I was glad to have a girl friend and not have to worry about being chased around by Amazons like some of my friends. I was more worried about the dance afterwards and my two left feet. A local Baguio band played Colour My World and Samba Pa Ti which are two songs that to this day remind me of slow dancing at Hamilton Hall.

Unlike most of the kids I was not happy to be getting out of school. After a year of physical and intellectual freedom I would be leaving my new home and friends and returning to my family in Leyte. Just when I thought my vacation was over, a classmate invited me to spend a week with him after school was out. My sentence had been commuted! I changed my reservations and sent my parents a telegram telling them I would be home ten days later!

The last few days of school were busy, emptying my locker, returning books & desk lamps to the bookstore, turning in the bedding I had checked out from the linen room and packing up my few possessions. Some of my roommates were already gone, their mattresses rolled up on the metal cots, gravestones to remind us someone had been there. Here and there around campus there were tearful goodbyes going on between those students who would not be coming back. Some were graduating seniors, others had parents who were being transferred or furloughed. My girlfriend and her family belonged to the later group and would not return for a year. Some students would get home only to find out they were moving and we would never see or hear from them again. I wasn't sure how to feel about these partings. This was the life that I was used to, making friends for a year then moving on to a new life, another school. But for the first time they seemed more like family than simply school friends. I exchanged addresses with a few and then, on the last day after school let out, I said goodbye to my roommates and climbed aboard the USAF "Blue Bus" with my host and other schoolmates which returned them to their homes on
John Hay.

In 1972, the war in Vietnam was still going strong and the American bases in the Philippines were busy. All year long a steady stream of airmen and sailors on leave would troop through Baguio to shop the markets and on to Banaue to see the rice terraces. The souvenir trade was big business in Baguio and had been since the early 1900's. From hand woven place mats to table runners, hand carved wooden tiki masks, penis ash trays, headhunter statues and salad bowls, brass fertility pendants to silver napkin rings, tens of thousands of these souvenirs would be bought to grace homes across the continental US.

Much smaller than the megalithic bases of Clark or Subic, Camp John Hay was an R & R center for military personnel and their dependents and was well known for its golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus.
A little touch of stateside, the base was clean, orderly, well maintained and manicured. It was it's own self contained world, with restaurants, a bowling alley and a movie theater.

For my friends this base was Philippine life as they knew it, so different from my experiences and yet their life of frequent moving and new schools were very much like mine. It was great to be part of their world and it was strange at how
surreal their lives were compared to my life down on Leyte. Every morning was like waking to a dream: Real milk, Apple Jacks or Cheerios for breakfast, watching Captain Kangaroo on TV. I was experiencing a mini culture shock and gobbled up everything I came across. But underneath the Leave it to Beaver veneer was the strict disciplinary life they lead. Punishments were harsh and frequent for minor infractions. We never talked about it, that is just the way life was.

Every day we got up and grabbed a quick bite and then we were out the door to meet up with the gang. If you were a kid and you wanted to find someone on John Hay all you had to do was get on the shuttle. Sooner or later, all the kids would get on the Base Bus, Sue and Robert Huff, Matt, Diane and Alice Flick, Ron and Donny Davis and half a dozen other kids. Although you could take it to the PX, the bowling alley or the movie theater, it also was a destination unto itself. It was our sanctuary. Some days that is all we would do, just hang out riding around the base all day. All the kids would be in the back of the bus, talking, laughing, reading comics, some kids played cards. Some days we would head over to the library where they had a little room to listen to albums. We could expect to find Sue and Diana there and of course there would be Donny with headphones on listening to his hero
Donny Osmond. Donny's dad was the Golf Pro for the base and liked to demonstrate for us kids what an amazing golfer he was. At the driving range he would hit golf balls and bounce them off telephone poles. When he was a kid a firecracker exploded in his hand and he only had three fingers left. But boy he could still accurately drive a golf ball.

When we got hungry we might go over to someone's house, but most often we would head over to the Mile High for hamburgers, fries and a milk shake. The best fries. The best ketchup. I never knew I was craving an American style burger and fries till I started eating there. Donny might bowl a few frames, but often he would bowl game after game for hours, trying to beat the high score. One day he was there so long that he wore the skin off his thumb. It was swollen and raw and would no longer fit in the thumb hole, so he had them bore out the hole so he could get his thumb in there. Other days we might go golfing. This was not so fun. I wasn't a golfer so I might get stuck being a caddy for one of the older kids, which meant lugging a golf bag up
Heart Attack Hill. John Hay legend has it that a general had a heart attack going up the hill. It was an interesting hole because you couldn't see the green from the tee. You just whacked the ball and hoped it didn't roll back all the way down the hill.

Other days Robert, Matt, Donny and I would get cardboard and go sliding down one of the many steep hills around the base. Or head over to the base theater to meet up with the girls and catch a matinee. Admission was a dime and Cokes were a nickel. For a quarter you could watch a movie and have popcorn, a drink and a candy bar. We kids would all sit together, filling the front rows of the theater.

We all hung out together at night too. We would go over to one of the kids houses and watch TV or play hide n seek. One night some of the older kids started a game of
spin the bottle. I had never heard of this game before and was a little nervous every time it was my turn, but the bottle never pointed to a girl. After playing this for a while one of the girls suggested a game called 7 minutes in heaven. Having not fared well with the previous game, I hoped I would have better luck with this one. Then all of sudden I was sitting in a closet, in the dark with a girl! What was I supposed to do now? Fortunately she started talking to me and we spent the next 7 minutes chatting about her best friend, my girl friend. I was relieved not only to have escaped an embarrassing experience but especially not to be the only guy left out.

The next day we were over looking at one of my classmates impressive collection of WWII souvenirs. He showed us bullets and shell casings he had dug up around the base. He had quite a few larger brass cannon shells, some bayonets and Ka-Bar knifes too. He was acting funny, alternately animated then despondent. We talked about our own collections and then he asked if we wanted to see a real pistol. He left the room and came back with his dad's gun. He handed it around and we took turns holding it. I was surprised at how heavy it was. He took the gun back inserted the clip, chambered a round and slipped the safety off.
He began pacing back and forth, ranting about how much he liked this girl and how could we do this to him. Pointing the gun randomly at each of us, his face contort first with rage, then agony and then back to normal again. He turned away, took a few steps out of the room, then turned and stomped back in and pointed the gun at the others, then himself, then he pressed the muzzle against my forehead. His finger on the trigger, I watched him silently. I was surprisingly calm, sitting quietly watching his face through out the whole ordeal. Distantly I could hear the others talking, telling him to relax, to calm down. Finally, he went and put the gun away and came back to his bedroom. We all acted as if nothing had happened and soon went out to ride the bus. We never talked about that day and I never gave it much thought. Looking back I don't think I felt particularly brave, I just didn't know any better.

We are scattered to the four winds now. Some of us are dead and others have disappeared. We shared a common bond in the way our fathers raised us.
Learn to expect the fury and the wrath. The rod was never spared in our homes. Obey the rules and no talking back, break the rules and expect punishment. This was just the way life was and it was hard. Each of us learned to deal with it in our own way.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Part 17: The McKenzie Break

"Hiding places there are innumerable,
but possibilities of escape are as many as hiding places"

~ Franz Kafka

"These prison walls are funny. First you hate 'em, then you get used to 'em. Enough time passes, gets so you depend on them"
~ The Shawshank Redemption

Having passed the "test" and proved myself worthy, I was now being granted access to the inner sanctum. This was great because Pat provided occasional refreshments for his guests and I was always hungry. But my being chosen to be an active operative in the Chocolate Syrup Caper was not by accident. Despite my antics during the Halloween Carnival's Cabaret performance of Pete & RePete, I had demonstrated that I could be a trooper. Then came an incident that brought me into conflict with Pat Dillon some weeks later.

One afternoon a bunch of us kids were down at the gym messing around the set of an upcoming play. They had been painting scenery and there was a huge drop cloth on the stage. Some of the kids discovered that if we grabbed the ends and billowed it up, it was just stiff enough to hold its shape when you set it down and you could crawl under it. We were doing this when Pat Dillon came along and proposed we play a
hide n seek of sorts. There would be one person on the outside and the rest would be under the tarp trying to hide. The person on the outside would run across the tarp tagging the kids underneath. Each person tagged had to leave the tarp. Last person tagged was It. Pat would be It first. Things were going along fine, but because he couldn't see who he had tagged we began to scramble away to another part of the tarp that wasn't collapsed. This pissed Pat off and he began to knock us down until the taggee gave up and crawled out. Stay down! But I wouldn't give up. Like the scene in Cool Hand Luke where Paul Newman and George Kennedy duke it out, he knocked me down again and again, each time getting a little rougher, but I just kept getting up and crawling to a new spot. Stay down!

Finally he tackled me and sat on my chest, then pulled the tarp back to expose my defiant face. I struggled to get free but he weighed twice as much as I did and I couldn't move.

Stay down you stupid little jerk!
For several minutes I kept trying to get my arms out and thrashed my legs about. He just sat there watching me with a grin on his face, waiting for the fight to go out of me.
Are you done?
I nodded.
Pat stood up and grinned as he held out his hand to help me up.
Waldo, You're OK
And so the partnership began.

Theater was a big deal at Brent, the school usually producing two plays a year. For the '71-'72 school year we had "
The Drunkard", "Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs" and "Down in the Valley". The casts of these particular plays were made up of Seniors, faculty and in the case of "Down in the Valley" parents too (some of us kids were used in scenes requiring children). But Brent was a small school and they were always looking for extra hands to do the dirty work. The whole thing fascinated me and I spent my afternoons hanging out around the gym. Mr. Craig and Mr. Guerra soon had me hauling, painting and running errands for the director. As the opening night approached things got more hectic. There was a steady stream of students coming and going from the gym. One of the advantages to working on a play is that you could have permission to be out of the dorm at night. All the activity and this loophole to a strict dorm rule gave Pat an idea.
Let's go see a movie.

My heart stopped beating. what?

We will go down to the gym after supper tonight and then sneak off Campus and go see a movie. We'll be back in time for bed check.

Part of the problem with being a flunky is that occasionally you get put in the position of having to do crazy things. I had just risen to a new level in the pecking order and I didn't want to go back down. So that night after supper we signed out to go to the gym to "work on the play". Then after a few minutes of work we slipped out and worked our way across the soccer field to a hidden hole in the fence. This secret exit was well known to the Seniors and Juniors and a select few sophomores and freshmen. And now me.

It seemed like it took forever crawling along the fence to that hole. Then we were through and we hurried down along Brent Road keeping to the ditch, past the Pink Sisters Convent. We caught a cab at the end of the road downtown to the Pines Theater. We bought tickets to see
Rio Lobo.

I had a hard time enjoying the movie, I was way too nervous to pay attention. We sat in the balcony and every time I glanced over at Pat he was calm, cool and collected. As the minutes went by I became more anxious till finally Pat leaned over and said let's go.

We retraced our route, catching a cab back to the bottom of Brent Road, keeping in the dark as we walked along the ditch. A taxi came up behind us just as we passed the convent and we dove into the ditch. The car pulled up at the Brent gate and some people got out and started talking to the guards and pointing in our direction.
Teachers! Pat hissed through his teeth
. Hurry!

We quickly scrambled through the hole and raced across the field in the darkness. Behind us a guard was slowly walking down the road shining his flashlight in the ditch along the fence. We scurried behind the gym and raced down the path that led to the Infirmary. There we parted ways. I was
signed in and in bed before Mr Swanson came to do the bed check. I was thinking never again, never again, never again.

The next day we watched as the hole in the fence was being patched, eliminating an illegal route off campus. The Seniors were not too happy at these developments, but as word spread of our exploits I discovered I was a celebrity! Even though the escape route had been discovered, not getting caught was everything, so our expedition was viewed as successful. Pat was happy and more adventures for us were in store.
Over the next four years, I only snuck off campus two more times . I found there were easier ways around the rules and more exciting places to sneak off to on campus.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Part 16: The Dinner Ritual

"A man seldom thinks with more earnestness
of anything than he does of his dinner"

~ Samuel Johnson

"Bless us O Lord, this food to our use and us to Thy service. Make us ever mindful of the needs of others. Through Christ our Lord, Amen."
~ Brent School Prayer

When I think back to my days at Brent, the images that first come to mind are those in and around the dinning hall; waiting for meals in the rainy season in the student lounge, trying to find a warm spot by the fire, in the dry season we would sit outdoors on the steps. Housed in a large, three story building directly across from the main building (Ogilby Hall), it had originally been built as a dormitory and was called Toddler Hall. As the student population grew it was continuously expanded and enlarged over the next six decades and eventually would be renamed Binsted Hall, after Norman Binsted, a former Episcopal Bishop of the Philippines.

In the 1950's and 1960's, as American involvement in Southeast Asia increased, so did the need for good boarding schools. By the mid 60's the boarding students at Brent numbered over 100 and keeping track of everyone and making sure all students were fed became extremely problematic. Meal-times were a raucous affair, necessitating strict rules.

These rules carried over to later years even as the enrollment dropped.
During the school week, mandatory attendance was required at all meals for the boarding students. Dorm masters would count heads at every meal. While breakfast and especially lunch were more casual affairs, students were allowed to leave after they finished eating, the evening meals were much more structured. At times, when we got too noisy, an order of "silence" was imposed on us. Offenders were issued demerits on the spot.

Suppertime for the boarding students was always special. The sound of the dinner gong clanging to that Kalinga beat sent us scrambling
from all over the campus, soon we would be getting the best meal of the day!

More than that, it was an important daily ritual that made up the social fabric of dorm life. It tied us to the past, to the beginnings of the school. Dinnertime was where we came together to learn about each other. We youngsters listened to the teachers talking politics, we told each other stories about our families. We watched the older students interacting with each other. It was a laboratory, teaching us skills in dealing with the opposite sex.

Just as I had learned how to get to dinner unscathed, over the previous six months I learned my place within the pecking order. There was an undefined Class System for the male boarders and the divisions ran by grade and dorm: At the top were the Seniors in Binsted, then the Juniors and Sophomores in Weiser and finally the Freshmen in the Infirmary. Anything lower that and you really didn't exist on the social register. I was in that lowest group of
untouchables. Although it technically was a first come, first seated affair, tables were segregated along those caste lines, although from time to time some of the cockier kids tried to sneak in to a "cool" table. Transgressors were severely dealt with; they would be unceremoniously dumped from their chairs on to the floor, repeat offenders would be taken out for a cold shower. As for the girls, well they were enigmatic and mysterious, all grades living together in Hamilton Hall. They had rules and a class code of their own that we didn't know anything about.

Sundays were extra special and the biggest and best meal of the week was preceded by mandatory Chapel services. A formal affair, we all turned out smartly dressed, girls looking especially lovely, usually in dresses or sometimes in a pantsuit. Among the boys, those that had them wore sport coats, the rest of us in shirts and ties or Barong Tagalogs. After Chapel we would walk to the dining room, where it would be warm and glowing, candles flickering, white tablecloths and napkins on every table. In those early days there might be a reading from the Bible, or a few words from a visiting Bishop. Then, after any announcements from dorm masters or the assistant headmaster, we would stand for the mealtime prayer, followed by the boys holding out the chairs for the girls, waiting for all the ladies to be seated before we took our seats. Occasionally there might be classical music playing softly in the background from Mr Craig's stereo.

Then there was the food; served in courses, there would be salad, soup, rolls and an entree. A teacher at every table would educate and enforce proper etiquette: napkin upon the lap, which fork to use for the salad, please and thank yous.

Smiling waiters appeared, bearing steaming platters that smelled so heavenly. The kitchen did all the baking for the week that afternoon so the bread was fresh and warm. But for me the highlight of the week was ice cream! The only thing that might have made it perfect would have been a little chocolate syrup for the ice cream. Not an item readily available in sufficient quantities from the local stores to make it a regular part of the kitchen's menu, we had to do without.

One Sunday evening, just as I was about to pass through the Chapel doors, I was collared. St. Nicholas Chapel was
Sanctuary, Hallowed Ground so I was quite surprised to be nabbed right at the threshold. Actually, I was grabbed by the arms on either side, lifted off my feet and carried into Weiser Hall. This was off limits territory for any underclassman, and the only time you were ever allowed inside was when you were having your head flushed in the toilet, you were being given a cold shower, or having your stomach pounded on with spoons. So naturally I was quite terrified when I was deposited in front of Pat Dillon. As Head Inquisitor, the majority of my hazing had been by his hands. But apparently I was not there for sacrificial entertainment but for a business proposition. I was very relieved to not be a victim and looked about excitedly. Pat's room was decked out with psychedelic black light posters and a collection of wooden owls. He ran an after hours canteen, selling soft drinks, chips and American candy to the boarders and the goodies lined his shelves. It was a treat to be allowed into his room and especially so since it did not involve torture.

Pat had determined that to overcome the lack of chocolate syrup we would have to make our own. And we would make it before supper. During Chapel.
Getting caught making contraband during the service was a serious offense, so the person making it would have to be
expendable. Thus, the reason for my presence was explained.

His game plan was simple: at Chapel surround me with the biggest upperclassmen and during the hymns they would sing extra loud whereupon I was to stir like crazy. The trick was to stop stirring when no one was singing. I was given the ingredients and the tools and we proceeded to Chapel.

I quietly added the ingredients to a large beaker and waited for my cue. Then when my conspirators began to sing I stirred furiously. The noise of the spoon sounded awfully loud, but my pew mates just sang all the louder. With the end of the hymn I would rest my weary arm and waited for the next song. A few of the teachers looked over at us suspiciously but they couldn't see that we were doing anything wrong. I'm sure Father Houghton was very gratified by our enthusiastic participation that night. The culmination of all this was some tasty, though still rather lumpy chocolate syrup. The biggest treat for me, however, was being allowed to sit with the upperclassmen (but not the seniors!) during supper that night. I had risen a grade in the pecking order.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Part 15: Hunting Parties

"Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs"
~William Shakespeare

"I was half in love with her by the time we sat down. That's the thing about girls. Every time they do something fall half in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are"
~J.D. Salinger

January brought sunshine, much cooler weather and the sweet scent of smoke. Pine logs popped and crackled in every building around campus and we would jostle for a warm spot in front of the fireplace in the mornings before breakfast.

Mornings were especially hard, crawling from my toasty bed, hopping across the icy concrete floor of the bathroom, teeth chattering as I quickly got dressed and hurried off for some warm breakfast. The reverse process, taking off the warm clothes and climbing in between cold sheets at night was equally tough.

The gray skies now were blue, the air crisp and clean. We could be outdoors all the time now, taking advantage of Brent's forested campus, sliding down the steep hills on pieces of cardboard, playing Capture the Flag in the valley behind our dorm.

Like "The Neutral", "The Valley" was another one of those places at Brent where the moniker connotated so much more than the ordinary, undeveloped parcels of real estate that they were.
It was wonderful mysterious place, the pine trees so thick that it seemed to go on forever.

Here lovers had their trysts, here upperclassmen consumed copious amounts of assorted contraband, here we ran wild and free. We knew that somewhere out there to the east, were the houses and roads of settled areas, but in our imaginations it was thousands of miles away.

In the Valley, just below main building, maybe a hundred feet or so, was the entrance to a cave.
It was supposed to have been dug by the Japanese during the war and led to a secret entrance under the stairs of Ogilby Hall. The cave had been partially filled in to keep kids out, but that didn't stop us from crawling into it as far as we could go. Old timers among the staff told us that at one time all the old buildings had been linked by tunnels. They would regale us with their stories, nodding knowingly about secret caches of WWII arms and loot buried around the campus. They filled our heads with tales of Yamashita's gold, the ingots hidden in the pasiking of the statue on Camp John Hay, the golden Bulol statue. This was exciting stuff and we wanted to be the ones to find it, so we would spend the weekend exploring the valley and crawling under every building looking for the entrance to these hidden tunnels. With all these distractions, Boy Scout expeditions, new friends and school, my days were full and I soon forgot my "Halloween Affair".

But along with the sun came the little hunting parties, usually in groups of two or three, with one acting as the bait. They'd call you over with some kind of homemade snack and chat you up. You'd think
I kind of like this girl, but it was all a trick. They were there to check you out, soften you up for some unseen friend.

Girls are a lot smarter than boys, or at least more determined. Good or bad, they have a clearer idea of what they want and then work together in packs to achieve that goal. Some boys, the ones with the hunter instincts, recognize these movements and patterns and use them to their advantage. But for the rest of us, grazing contentedly on the daily fare that was boarding school life, we were unaware of the swirling rush about us.

The little cootie catcher quizzes appeared and there would be questions: "do you like this or that?". I'd open my locker and there would be a note. "Do you like so and so?" This went on for weeks and I had no clue what was going on. Finally, the identity of the stalker was revealed, by which time I was too worn out to resist. But my hunter was patient, kind, gentle and loved to laugh. She slowly but surely navigated me through the etiquette maze of
going steady. We had been dating for a few weeks when one of her friends said "when are you going to kiss her?" I panicked. I had been kissed before but never made the first moves. What was I supposed to do? How was I supposed to do it? I shouldn't have worried. She had it all under control.

So it happened one night, during a basketball game at the gym, that she took my hand and we wandered out into the blackness of the soccer field. There, in the dark she put her arms around me and then leaned forward to kiss.

At this point I need to tell you about my other family curse. I have mentioned before that the sins of the father are passed on to the son, and it is so biologically as well.

The first hole in the ozone layer was not discovered by NASA somewhere over the arctic circle, it was found directly over our house. Scientists puzzling over this anomaly discovered that incredible amounts of methane gas were being pumped into the atmosphere. This startling source of renewable energy was being produced almost single-handedly by my father. Not only was he prolific but he was musical too! No casual amateur, he took his occupation very seriously. Family lore claims that Al Hirt came up with the idea for the theme for the Green Hornet after hearing my father perform at a Chicago restaurant one night. I am a first hand witness to numerous discharges during weddings, funerals, meetings, in crowded buses and movie theaters. It took me years to figure out that a request for a moment of silence was not a request to pass gas. To this day my butt cheeks clench at the words "Let us bow our heads"... I can remember one Easter sunrise service as the minister, reading from the Gospels, reached the point where they go to the tomb and discover it is ... brrrippp! Like Joshua's trumpets toppling the walls of Jericho, the solemnity of the moment was destroyed by my father's tenor butt trumpet.

But, back to the story.
So, as our lips touched for our very first kiss, it happened.
Ah, the shame, the shame. My heart stopped and I waited for her reaction. But she didn't laugh or make a single comment. She just kissed me again.

That night I learned the meaning of true love. That night she set the bar so very high for all future girlfriends. That night I learned the most valuable trait to look for in a girl: One that doesn't mind when you fart.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Part 14: Halloween Carnival and Girls

"If you are ever in doubt as to whether to kiss a pretty girl,
always give her the benefit of the doubt"

~Thomas Carlyle

"For as children tremble and fear everything in the blind darkness,
so we in the light sometimes fear what is no more to be feared
than the things children in the dark hold in terror
and imagine will come true"

~ Titus Lucretius Caras

"You wouldn't believe On All Hallows Eve
What lots of fun we can make,
With apples to bob
and nuts on the hob a
nd a ring-and-thimble cake"
~ Carolyn Wells

A lot of the boarders were in Brent's Scouting program, from Cub Scouts on up through to the Explorer Scouts. Jaime Case and I joined up along with most of the guys in our room. We were in Troop 76, Mr. Asiatico was our Scoutmaster. Most of us didn't have any of the necessary equipment, so we had to order it. It was exciting going through the catalog, ordering uniforms, backpacks and canteens. It was not exciting having to write to my folks asking for the money to buy the gear.

Our patrol was named the
Wolverines (Wolverines, Wolverines, we can dig our own latrines...), made up of Jaime, Mark Becker, David Ballard, Mike Murphy, Hata Dimaporo and Gary Duckett. We met weekly on campus after school, and on the weekends we hiked down to Asin Hot Springs and up to the top of Mt. Santo Tomas. At the hot springs we would change into our swim trunks and then hike up stream. We would float down in the cold mountain river,our lips turning blue, then jump into the steaming pool filled with hot sulfurous water. When we couldn't take it any longer we would climb out and repeat our journey. The hike back to Baguio after a long day at the springs was tiring and sometimes Mr Asiatico would arrange to have the Brent mini bus pick us up.

Our entire troop made a trip for a two night camp out on the beach where it rained the first night we were there. After we got our tents pitched and cooked our suppers, Mr Asiatico would tell ghost stories by the fire light. Most of these were variations on stories Auring had told me years before, but he threw in new twists and managed to make us jump every time. There is a surprising amount of natural light on at night and we would wake up in the middle of the night wondering if it was almost dawn. We would get up and wander down to the beach where the churning surf glowed with phosphorescent light. Mr Asiatico explained to us that microscopic plankton, when agitated by the waves would emit a glow.

With Slave Day behind us and the daily hazing slowing down to an occasional cold shower or pink belly, the anxiety of being in a new school far from home fading, I began to relax into the rhythm of boarding school life. Classes during the school week, afternoons and weekends at the library. Shooting baskets at the mini- court after school or, if it was raining, down at the gym.

Still, every week brought a new experience.
Every week I would check out the table just inside the dining hall where there was a clipboard that held sign up sheets for various weekly activities. Trips to watch basketball games at other schools, Friday and Saturday night movies and trips to the beach were just some of the things the school planned to keep us busy and entertained. Sometimes local missionary parents would host youth programs for Brent students. These events were a particular favorite of mine as they always guaranteed lots of food. I was at one of these one night, sitting on a couch in the dark watching a film, anticipating the refreshment portion of the program. It was some biopic about Martin Luther and the Reformation called "Here I Stand" and it had barely got started when I felt something warm in my hand. I looked down to see what it was and was surprised to find that it was another hand! Not only that, but it was attached to the very pretty blond freshman sitting next to me! I can't tell you exactly what the movie was about because the racket from someone's pounding heart drowned out the sound. For the next 3/4 of an hour I sat marveling at the wonders of holding hands. When the movie ended, just before her father turned on the lights, she slid her hand out of mine and turned to talk to the girl next to her. I hadn't a clue on what to do next. So I did nothing.

They don't teach you about these things in school. There are no classes on how to talk to the opposite sex, no tutorials on kissing, no seminars on how to tell if a girl likes you and what to do about it if she does. My friend Jaime knew all this instinctively and never seemed to have any trouble asking girls out. Over the years he would date many of the girls I had crushes on. But for those like me, no amount of coaching and practical experience would ever really make a difference. I was handicapped by my naivety, ignorance of the opposite sex and a bookish sense of propriety. I was totally oblivious to all signals, the meaningful smiles, looks and small talk from girls who liked me. In hindsight, I can look back over the years and now see my many missed opportunities at young love.

The most anticipated event at Brent was the Halloween Carnival, a big fund raising event held every year in the school Gym. The Gym was a huge (to me anyway) multi-storied cavernous building. There were permanent bleachers on two sides with balconies above them. Affixed to the railings were 4x8 sheets of cream painted plywood, on them in bold maroon letters were the class year and names of the graduating students. There was one for each year since the gym had been built. I had carefully counted the remaining empty spaces and saw that there would be room for my class someday.

During plays, graduations or the Halloween Carnival, the gym floor was covered with 4x8 sheets of Masonite to protect the beautiful wood basketball court. 2x4 partitions were erected, each class being allotted so much space for two booths. One booth to sell refreshments and the other set up for games of chance: ring toss, pop the balloon, shooting baskets, bean bag toss. There was prime real estate: the boys locker room for the Haunted House, one of the balconies for the Spanish Club's restaurant, the other balcony for the Sophomore class to use for their Cabaret.

On the night of the carnival Jaime and I hurried down to the gym after supper. We bought tickets at the door and used them to play games or buy food. There were so many things to do, so many things to eat. First a trip through the Haunted House, then a quick scouting expedition to see what kind of goodies were available. We each took a turn working at our class booths, then off again for some snacks and games. I had extra booth duties that night, besides my class booths I had to work at the Spanish Club booth and at the Cabaret. In addition to the musical numbers performed by students and teachers, Pat Dillon and Jerry Sullivan were doing a skit called "Pete and Re-Pete" and I was helping them out. Pat put on a long sleeved shirt backwards with his arms inside the shirt and I sat behind him and stuck my arms through the sleeves. While he did his comedic monologue, I would accompany him with nose scratchings, arm waving, gesticulations and occasionally getting my fingers in his ears, nostrils and eyes! The skit culminated with "waiter" Jerry serving him a plate of spaghetti and me feeding Pat. Needless to say his face was covered with spaghetti! For my services I got a free spaghetti dinner after the show and Pat came over to rub my face in the plate as payback for my antics!

After that I was free to roam the carnival. There was a "Jail", where you could pay to have someone thrown in the hoosegow by the "Sheriff" and he or she would have to pay to get out. The Freshman class ran two booths: a self explanatory "Make-out" booth and a "Marriage" booth, where for a fee you could get married to anyone including rings! Groups of giggling girls hung around both those booths looking for potential victims. I made sure I stayed clear of those booths!

The Seniors also had the dunking booth and it was great fun to watch Mr Craig, Mr Main and Mr Swanson getting soaked! You could buy 3 chances at hitting the target with a softball. Large groups of Senior, Junior and Sophomore boys lined up to get a chance at payback with Mr Craig! Every time one of them hit the target and the cold water poured over Mr Craig, a great cheer would go up!

Everyone was in costume,
teachers, staff, their families and parents of the Day Students would all be there dressed in costumes too! One of my classmates father looked just like the actor Vincent Price and came dressed like a vampire! Then, towards the end of the night a "parade" would occur, with everyone marching around the gym, while the judges looked them over and Best Costume prizes would be awarded. Mrs Alcantara won the adult category for her Mother Time costume, Alision Ploesser won in the student category for her Yellow Pages costume, Tanya Boyd's Harem Girl won sexiest costume and Joel Wren won for scariest costume.

The next morning we were back at the gym to help clean up. It didn't take too long and by mid afternoon I was over at John Hay Air Base hanging out with my classmates Robert Huff and Donny Davis. We went down to the Base Haunted House to see what was going on there and ran into some other kids from school. It was closed but Robert found an open door around back, so we went in and began exploring the empty building. I found myself alone and came upon a closed coffin set up on saw horses. I climbed up on top and was sitting there when two girls came in and crawled up to sit next to me. There we were talking and laughing when one of them took my chin in her hand and turned my head towards her and kissed me! Before I could process that information the girl on the other side of me turned my head back and kissed me too! Then the other girl pulled me back! They went back and forth and my circuits shorted out and I don't even know how long this went on. We heard the sound of voices approaching and they slid off the coffin and skipped away leaving me dazed, a foolish grin on my face.

I was putting my books in my locker the next day, still reveling in the experience, when "Adolf' grabbed me from behind, spun me around and started swinging, knocking me to the floor. He was mad because one of the girls who kissed me was "his girl". I don't know if she told him or if someone else had seen us. I didn't even know he had a girlfriend. Senora Palacios came out of her Spanish class to see what the racket was and saw him sitting on my chest punching me. He was sent to the office and I to the Infirmary. While the nurse was applying iodine to my scratches she asked me what I was smiling at. Ahh. I was thinking of those kisses. It was worth it!

A few weeks before Christmas break I got a letter from Mom with instructions on how to make airline reservations. I went downtown to the Philippine Airlines office on Session Road and made my reservations to get to Tacloban for the holidays. I don’t know how the tickets were paid for, I know I didn’t ever pay for them. I would continue to make my own reservations for the next 5 years. This turned out to be a great thing because I could decide when I would go to see the “family” and when I would return home to Brent. I was the last boarder to leave and the first to return. As the years went by and I got older, I put off making the reservations till the last minute and eventually was able to spend two Christmas’s away from home.

Most kids were looking forward to the holidays, while I viewed them with growing trepidation. It was relief and disappointment when I arrived at the airport in Tacloban and was met not by my parents but by Auring. We took a Jeepney back to the house where she had a special "Welcome Home" dinner cooking for me.

Christmas day came and I was mortified by the gift my parents gave me: a gold colored plastic sword. I can remember holding it up and watching as the plastic blade drooped and then bent over. Apparently my absence from home had also kept them from remembering to buy something for me and the sword was a last minute "oh, shit!" purchase. Auring and the students had put some money together and bought me a wallet and a sweater, so it wasn't a complete wash. I think Mom felt bad, because she gave me some cash in an envelope the next day and before I left gave me some sheets and pillowcases and a quilt that Grandma W had made. I still have them to this day.

The two weeks in Tacloban were a little tense, but cordial. I was full of stories about the new and interesting things I was doing. But no one seemed too interested or know how to treat me. I now felt like an outsider in my family and was only too happy when the day came and I found myself flying to Manila. After the plane landed, as soon as I had my bag, I took a cab straight to the bus station and caught the next bus up to Baguio, rather than waiting till the next morning for a flight. I sat by the window, waiting for the first scent of the pine trees, waiting for the cool air to brush my cheeks. I was going home.