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.