Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Part 13: Bullies, Hazing and Slave Day Auction

"Schoolboys are a merciless race, individually they are angels, but together, especially in schools, they are often merciless."
~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky

"All through my school life I was appalled by the fact that masters and senior boys were allowed quite literally to wound other boys, and sometimes very severely."

~ Roald Dahl

"I won't say ours was a tough school, but we had our own coroner. We used to write essays like: What I'm going to be "if" I grow up."
~ Lenny Bruce

I found myself doing a lot of running. Running to get to class on time, running to get to the dining hall, running from my tormentors.

So I settled into dorm life and my new school. Everything was new, it was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. There was a predictable daily pattern to life that (for me anyway) was very comforting. This included checking my bed every night to make sure it was dry or had not been
short sheeted and having to check the toilet seat for saran wrap or Vaseline before using it. Sometimes the bedroom door would be wedged shut with coins. But soon the routine included running a nightly obstacle course. In between us and our daily meals were the Sophomores and Juniors at Weiser Hall. Right above the dining hall were the Seniors. There, in the evening twilight, they would lie in wait for unsuspecting underclassmen. No one was really immune, it was a trickle down effect from oldest to youngest. Aah, the gut wrenching agony when you were caught.

Most times the tortures were relatively painless: wedgies, where your underwear was pulled up and over your shoulders, wet willy, where the tormentor, using his forefinger would place a glob of saliva in your ear, or maybe they would just pour a glass of water down the front of the pants! A knuckle punch in the arm and Indian arm burns were very common too. Other times it would involve being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the dorms and having your head dunked in the toilet, a swirley. You could only hope that it had been flushed first. Another popular torture was the cold shower. The north windows in the dining hall were at the same level as the bathroom windows of Weiser Hall. It was a common sight to see the screaming, bobbing heads of the hapless victims as they were held under the cold water. We quickly discovered that the more you resisted the more intense the treatment. The worst torture was the dreaded pink belly. You would have Tiger Balm rubbed on your stomach and then spoons would be used like drum sticks, pounding away until your belly would welt and burn. Sometimes things got out of hand; kids like Mark Perkins were defiant, shouting, cussing and fighting and so got this treatment daily. Others were just unlucky to be a popular victim; sometimes I'd hear kids crying at night. A few students turned traitor and joined their tormentors, helping them track, catch and hold down the other kids. As we little kids searched for new ways to get to supper, so too our tormentors found new ways to ensnare us. They would fan out across our likely routes in ones and twos, waiting to ambush us.

We were paranoid, jumping at the slightest sound. We lived like hunted rabbits; we became quick, nimble and clever. We would leave our dorm early, darting behind bush to tree. Maybe my previous experiences had prepared me, but I became very adept in evading capture. I took to climbing out my bedroom window, dropping the ten feet or so to the ground below and then I would sneak down along a roundabout path through the forested valley. I would come up from behind the gym, creep up the hill and wait behind the shrubs for an opportunity. Then in a mad dash I would sprint for the hall, faster, faster, I can feel their hands reaching for me and then into the safety of the lounge! It was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. Getting back to the dorm after supper was equally difficult. Woe to the boarder who failed to be on constant alert!

But even after we were safely in bed at night, sometimes they would slip in to our rooms and nab someone and drag them out for torture.

You would think that during the school day it was safer, but being the shortest in our grade made Donald Irvine and I easy targets for the class bullies. One of them came dressed as Adolf Hitler one day and wanted us to salute him. We refused and his gang knocked us to the ground and proceeded to beat on us. This went on for weeks till Donald's older brother Richard came to the rescue. He was a tough looking guy who wore a leather motorcycle jacket. He grabbed one of the bullies by the neck and said "if you ever touch either of them again you're dead". This had the desired effect, although they hated us even more and looked for other ways to humiliate us.

From my very first day at Brent I had heard dreadful rumors of something called Slave Day. During the first school assembly it was casually mentioned along with the Halloween Carnival, Sadie Hawkins Day and Field Day. I had no idea what these events entailed and except for the former, had no idea what they might be.

Apparently, all new students and freshmen would be auctioned off to raise money for something called Senior Skip Day. For one school day we were the property of our "masters". We would have to do chores for them, minister to their needs and worse. The upperclassmen were teasing us daily with the prospect of all the horrible things they were going to make us do when they bought us. On the day of the sale we new kids huddled in nervous little groups while the wolves circled us whispering and laughing to each other. But some of us had a plan. Jaime and I pooled our money together and bid on each other. It was a long drawn out nerve racking experience standing before the entire student body while our virtues were extolled, waiting for that final bid. Some teachers were bidding too! Fortunately we went low, I was sold for a paltry 7 pesos. Jaime sold for 15. The next day proved the worst of our fears to be mostly unfounded. There were rules regarding what could and could not be done. So some boys had to wear their underwear on the outside of their clothes, other boys were decked out in dresses and make up. Other kids had their clothes on backwards and had to walk backwards all day too. Girls bought boys they liked. Some girls were bought by friends, others by boy friends and so got off fairly lucky. Some could only communicate by singing! For those of us who had bought our freedom it turned out to be a really fun day. For those who were not so lucky, it wasn't fun at all.


  1. Having been a day student at Brent, I had no idea what dorm life was like!
    To expand on your Hogwart's analogy from an earlier post, did you end up with a team like Harry-Ron-Hermione? Who became your Hagrid? your Snape?...

  2. One of the things that JK Rowling didn't really get in to very much was how Hogwarts really was more of "Home" to Harry than anywhere else. So Brent was for me. I was at Brent for 5 years and only spent 10 months of that at home (that is being generous). Like Harry, there were times when I spent Christmas at school. Brent's teachers, like the students, were transitional, new ones every year it seemed. So there teachers we liked from year to year, but few were ever there more than a two years. Although he was in the class ahead of me, Jaime was my buddy at Brent.

  3. I'm glad I came across your blog. I was a student at Brent for only a year (1974) but it was a very memorable and most creative time for me.
    You have a natural talent for story-telling and I'd love to read more of your writings.

  4. So this explains your uncanny speed.

  5. Vivid scenes and pictures return to me because of your descriptions.