Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Part 25: The Blue Lagoon

"I see... as a young baby sees, and there are things are before me that I do not comprehend. It is not through my bodily eyes that this sensation comes, but through some window of the mind, from before which a curtain has been drawn."

~ Henry De Vere Stacpoole

"Nature has left this tincture in the blood, That all men would be tyrants if they could"
~ Daniel Defoe

Boarder boredom during those first weeks of Martial Law also led to increased activity in the hazing department. My roommate Steve was repeatedly "captured" and tortured. He was now the cleanest kid in the dorm, having cold showers two or three times a day. But all the repeated washings did not seem to be making a dent in the
Vaseline they had rubbed in his hair. His misery and frustration with one of his tormentors in particular came to a head one weekend late in October. One afternoon while munching on Nabisco Fig Newtons and alternating between rage and despair he muttered "I'd like to see the f@#*!er eat s*#t".

Steve was normally such a mild mannered kind of guy, so all these four letter words coming out of his mouth told me how upset he really was. He sat there in gloomy silence for awhile and then he got so agitated you could see the little light bulbs lighting and exploding in his head. I thought he was having a seizure. He ran out of the room and came back a few minutes later with a rolled up section of smelly newspaper. One of the teachers in our dorm had a pet bird and he had taken the paper that lined the cage out of the trash. Shaking and muttering to himself like a mad scientist he took his fingernail file and partially dug out the filling of a Fig Newton, then began packing it with the scrapings from the newspaper, supplementing it with droppings from his pet mouse that he had for a science project. Then he refilled the Fig Newton with the filling he had removed, carefully shaping and scraping the end to make it look just like the others. He triumphantly held up his creation with a look of glee, then the smile faded.
"I'll never be able to pull it off, he'll know I'm up to something"

I had been lying on my bed, watching him in horrid fascination as he worked. I felt bad for him as I now realized that it would all be for naught and he would continue to suffer. Now was the time to make up for my Slave Day betrayal. Something inside me snapped and I sat up, swung my legs over the bed and leaped to the floor.
I'll do it

I took the Fig Newton package and removing all of them, replacing the "doctored" fig bar on the bottom. Then I took three normal ones and placed them on the top, walking out the door holding a fourth in my hand.
As I climbed the stairs I could hear Norman and Angel up in the lobby talking with my roommates nemesis and I joined them, slowing chewing as I casually examined the sign out sheet. I finished the one in my hand and pulled out another and bit into it. Now there were only two "safe" ones left. I proffered the package to Norman and he took one, then held out the package to Angel who took another. Steve in the meantime had come up the stairs and was standing on the second floor landing talking to Mrs Pettitt, but really watching the events unfold below and practically dancing with excitement. I finished mine off, started to pull the last one out of the package, stopped, looked at the hapless victim and said "want the last one?" .
Sure, I love Fig Newtons! and he popped the whole thing in his mouth, chewed it up and swallowed. Steve couldn't stand it any longer and let out ear splitting screech and chanted "you ate bird s#@t!" over and over, then burst into hysterical laughter.
What! the Villain roared, lunging forward, first trying to grab me, then my roommate, but Norman blocked his path to me and Angel blocked his path up the stairs to Steve. They were both laughing as they grabbed him by the arms and hustled him off. They appreciated a good joke and kind of looked out for Steve from then on.

The first week of November Mr. Rudy Asiatico took his 8th and 9th grade science classes on the annual field trip to a place called 100 Islands. We would spend 3 days there collecting specimens for our science classes.

We loaded up the bus early one Thursday morning and made the drive down the mountain to the Lingayen Gulf. We got to a small town later that day and transferred our belongings to several
pump boats along with food and water, a block of ice, 6 cases of soft drinks and 4 cases of San Miguel Beer. Lench Villaluna nudged Erik Smith and whispered something. They both laughed and said something to Elmer Strasser and Mark Becker. Mr Asiatico overseeing the loading and looked over at them.
"I'll be counting those as I drink them boys, so don't get any ideas"

We were in high spirits as we made our way across the gulf. The skies were clear, there was a cool breeze and the waters crystal clear. The island we were going to was out of sight from the main land and after we unloaded the boats they left us, headed back to town. One of the girls asked
"How will they know to come back and get us?" Another said a panicked tone "What if they forget?" Mr Asiatico, ever the joker said "I hope they remember it was this Sunday and not next Sunday, I can't remember now what I told them". I got a tingly sensation in my stomach as I watched the boats sail away. It gave me the feeling of being marooned or shipwrecked like Robinson Crusoe.

We quickly set up camp, Mr Asiatico organizing us in to teams each with specific duties. Some of us set up the kitchen area, some the sleeping area, while others gathered firewood. The chaperones and the girls set up their sleeping area in the pavilion along with the food supplies. The boys decided we would sleep at the end of the concrete jetty that was well away from the pavilion. We Scouts had done this kind of thing before and we got through it fast so we could go swimming. The water felt great and it seemed like in no time at all Mr Asiatico was yelling for us to come in to eat. The fare was better than I expected and we ate with gusto. After supper we took our plates and utensils down to the water to rinse and scour them with sand: fresh water was at a premium out here.

Nighttime on a little island in the ocean is a study of contrasts. There was no electricity on our little island, the only light was a couple of Coleman lanterns and the drift wood fires we started. Once those were out you were aware of how dark it was away from a city; and yet there was so much light too. The ocean reflected the light of the moon and the stars, the waves crashing on the shore gave off phosphorescent light. You were aware of how quiet it was without the sounds of traffic and other city noises and yet there was the continuous rumble of the surf. The moon came up that night an eerie blue and it seemed to fill the horizon as it rose up out of the ocean.

We sat around the camp fire, talking and singing songs. Mr Asiatico told his oft repeated story of the tongue severed by a Japanese soldier that took on a life of it's own, crawling through the jungles looking for victims to strangle in it's slimy embrace.

"In fact, it was somewhere very near to here where the atrocity occurred!"

Out there in darkness the only sounds were the hiss of the waves on the shoreline and the crackle of the fire.

"Wait. What was that? Did you hear something?"

Then he poked the unsuspecting Ms Castro and she screamed, prompting unsolicited screams from the girls and some of the boys. Most of us Scouts had heard this story a dozen times or more but he was a natural story teller and embellished the tale to fit the location. I have to say I always jumped even though I knew what was coming.

The next morning we were up with the sun, ready to get started. After breakfast and cleanup was over, we went over our worksheets and gathered up our specimen jars and little nets. We spent the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon collecting samples, everything from shell fish to sea cucumbers. By mid afternoon we had most of our worksheets complete and we knew that the rest of the weekend would be ours to enjoy. One of the guys in our group had a huge crush on Ms Castro and would mumble to himself every time she passed by and rush off to jump in the ocean. She did look very fine in her suit and I thought her the most wonderful Algebra teacher ever. She managed to coax an "A" out of me in that class and I think it was solely because she mesmerized me with her gaze.

Most of the guys in the two classes were in Boy Scouts and we all brought our scout packs, canteens and other gear along with some snacks and other goodies. One of the guys brought a portable cassette player and some tapes, I brought vienna sausages, cheese in a can and crackers. Lench, planning ahead, had brought along a carton of cigarettes and a big bottle of gin colloquially known as
"Marca Demonio" or "4x4" because of the effects it had on the drinker. Ginebra San Miguel had a label that depicted the archangel Michael slaying a demon.
We passed the bottle of gin taking sips and saying
"this stuff is horrible" every time it was our turn for a sip. The stuff tasted like kerosene and burned in my belly long after I quit drinking. I had my first cigarette that night and I never drank a drop of gin again for 35 years. Oddly enough the very next time I had gin it was Ginebra San Miguel.

Late into the night we lay on the jetty, listened to
Chicago VII and Graham Nash's Songs for Beginners. The sound of the surf mixed in with the recording of the surf on Chicago's Wishing You Were Here till you couldn't tell where it ended on the recording or when it began. Those two albums are now irrevocably entwined with my life; Chicago's Happy Man, Nash's Simple Man and Wounded Bird are part of my anthem.

The next day was a repeat of the first, we finished off our worksheets by noon, had big lunch and then napped in the shade. Later that afternoon we swam out to a little dot of an island, the waves were slowly eroding the base of the island away.

That night we grilled hamburgers and drank the last of the soft drinks. Mr Asiatico was busy trying to finish off his beer but apparently lost count because later that night Eric produced 6 cold bottles of San Miguel he had pilfered for us to share. Much better than the
gin that no one wanted to finish. I don't know if Lench smuggled that bottle back to Baguio, or if it was left buried in the sand waiting for some lucky fisherman.

The next morning after breakfast we packed up our gear and waited for the boats to pick us up. The appointed hour came and went and my classmate who had been so worried about this very thing started sobbing. Marooned! But then after an hour or so here came the boats. They had a little engine trouble and were delayed getting to us.

We had just spent 3 days on the beach and no one had sun block in those days, so by the time I got back to the dorm I was bright red. I hurt all over and even my scalp was sunburned. Mrs Pettitt took one look at me and pulled out a jar of Noxzema and began slathering it all over my face, shoulders and back. The cool ointment felt so good on my hot skin. A week later I started peeling and I was all blotchy looking. I was sitting on the steps one day and this girl started peeling the dead skin off me it in great big patches. Kind of weird, but I was enjoying the attention!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Part 24: Animal Farm

"No one can look back on his schooldays and say
with truth that they were altogether unhappy"

~ George Orwell

"All animals are equal,

but some animals are more equal than others"
~ George Orwell

"On the whole, human beings want to be good,
but not too good, and not quite all the time"

~ George Orwell

With all classes suspended and lots of time on our hands, we boarders soon turned to hi-jinks. The boys dorms began a series of night raids on the girls dorm, Hamilton Hall. Organized by the Seniors and Juniors, the first two were "panty raids", we would sneak over to their dorm, creep up the stairs and then run room to room, grabbing panties from dresser drawers and then race back to our dorms. The older boys would do the raiding while the younger kids created distraction in the hallways. Which really meant that we were being readily sacrificed so the upper classmen could get away with their booty. A few of us younger guys were captured and what do girls do with captured boys? A "make over" of course! We had our hair done, eyes lined, faces powdered and rouged, lip stick, finger nails and toe nails were painted. It wasn't so bad. After they took out their frustrations on us we got pampered, kissed and cuddled! We looked like drag queens and took a lot heat when we got back to the dorm, but as I told Pat Dillon: I happen to like girls in their pajamas hugging me.

The first raid was a great success, carefully planned and executed; the girls had to claim their garments at supper the following night. The second, an impromptu affair, did not go as well. The girls were prepared this time and more of the boys were "captured" and "tortured" by the girls. This time they were not as nice.

Not to be outdone by the boys, the girls launched their own attacks on the senior boys dorm. This escalation lead to an all out attack on the Hamilton Hall; water balloons, toilet paper soaked in water and eggs were our weapons. Silently circling the dorm, at the given signal, we simultaneously launched our projectiles at all open windows. Ah the humanity! The screams, the shrieks and the cursing!

After such a successful attack, our generals decided to follow up with another the very next night. We gathered up our weapons and headed out in the dark through the grass and up the hill to Hamilton Hall. We were half way up the hill when suddenly girls leaped up from where they had been hiding in ambush and began throwing water balloons at us. For a few minutes the air was thick with flying eggs, soggy toilet paper and water balloons. There was lots of screaming and yelling. Some of the water in the balloons smelled like it came out of the bottom of the rain barrels at Hamilton Hall. Some of it smelled much worse. Then all of sudden it stopped. We were out of ammo.

The girls started dragging off some of the guys as prisoners so we grabbed some girls as hostages too. With all the hullabaloo the dorm masters came out, then the assistant headmaster Ed Craig came out. Prisoners were exchanged, and a cease and desist order issued. Mr. Craig and Mr Pettitt gathered us together in the
sala and talked to all the boys in the dorm. Things were getting out of hand and people were getting hurt. Some of the staff were concerned at the waste of eggs, our ammo was their food. I felt embarrassed about that. It never crossed my mind how it might look.

Chagrined, a couple of us went and apologized the next day to Domingo and my friends in the kitchen. They listened somberly as I stumbled with the words, my head hung in shame. Then one of the cooks laughed and tousled the hair on my head and another patted me on the back. Freddie nodded his head and said "good boys". They gave us some slices of freshly baked jelly rolls and a cup of tea! All was forgiven, things were back to normal.

During the second week of Martial Law, the Department of Education issued a directive that all schools in the Philippines implement a "work oriented curriculum", wherein one day each week be allotted for civic work. In keeping with this mandate, Brent would designate Friday of each week as "Work Day". However, that first week back we had Thursday and Friday as Work Days; And so we began work on an Animal Farm.

After flag raising we reported to our home room where Mrs. Estascio gave us our class assignment. The Brent campus was always very clean. You never saw trash laying around anywhere, so any cleaning we were going to do would be outside the gate along the fence of the athletic field along Brent Road. Most of us were assigned to the Animal Farm. We would be moving rocks, digging post holes and helping to erect a fence to contain whatever animals we might have. It was good to be doing something again and the day students were glad to be out of their homes finally. Most of the parents had kept their children home and indoors for the first week of Martial Law. Some of them had not seen any schoolmates for two weeks!

The whole school turned out, tasks assigned and divided by grades. Most of the boys were doing the hauling, digging and lifting. There were "bucket brigades" of rock haulers, moving loose stones which were being collected to build an amphitheater and pond. The elementary grades began work on a garden, tilling, spading, pulling weeds and making raised beds. At noon we had lunch on the Neutral, with tables brought out from the dining room set up with platters of sandwiches, potato chips, lemonade and ice tea. After a extra long lunch we went back to moving stones. Time went quickly and the next thing we knew the dismissal bell rang. The next day was a repeat of the first, except that after lunch we were essentially done for the day, and we went about putting away the tools. By two o'clock we were ready for the weekend! By the time the dismissal bell rang most of the boarders were at the gate waiting to sign out. We were heading downtown for the first time in two weeks!