Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Part 29: Dorm Daze

"I gaze beyond the rain-drenched streets...
My mind's distracted and diffused
My thoughts are many miles away
They lie with you when you're asleep..."
- Paul Simon

Both Jaime and I were growing. Well, you could actually tell Jaime was getting bigger, I was just not getting any shorter next to him, so it just looked like I wasn't growing. We were always starving by supper time. Domingo, the waiter in charge of our table, tried to keep our bellies full by sneaking food when the other waiters were not paying attention. This usually was not a problem as there was always food leftover on the other tables. Most of the boarders complained about the food and would not eat it, which kept Freddie busy cooking burgers and fries right up to the time he closed the canteen. After supper these students dipped into their own larders or patronized the dorm canteens. Anything to keep from having to eat our weekly boarders fare; Shepherd's Pie, Tuna Casserole, Creamed Chipped Beef or Chicken ala King over noodles or toast, that some kids called shit on a shingle. While it was nothing like Auring's cooking I usually was too hungry to care. Most of it was pretty good and there were always lots of fresh vegetables. Domingo liked that we ate our veggies and would always bring us more from the other tables. Sometimes this was the only thing left over and one night Jaime and I really went to town on the steamed cauliflower. Bowls of it. A little salt and margarine and it was just fine. We hungrily shoveled down about three full serving bowls a piece, a sure recipe for disaster.

My roommate was away for the weekend and Jaime was in my room spending the night. I had the covers tucked in tight around my neck and was desperately trying not to pass gas when I heard Jaime let one go in the bunk next to me. A loud, long drawn out affair. We both cracked up laughing and that made me fart too. We laughed some more and that made us fart more. As those of you who have had cauliflower gas know, the aroma is deadly; the scent of which made us laugh harder, which in turn generated more explosions. This went on for quite sometime. We were getting dizzy from all the fumes so at some point I got up and stumbled over to the windows to let in a little fresh air, never dreaming that the gases escaping from my room would now be sucked in to any open windows around the dorm.

During a lull in the gas barrage we heard our dorm master, Mr Pettitt in the hallway asking Norman if he smelled anything:
"Can you check the toilets down here and see if there is anything backing up? I can smell it upstairs but it seems stronger down here."
We burst into laughter again and Mr Pettitt knocked on our door and stuck his head in. His face got all screwed up like he was choking and he grabbed his nose and leapt back out of the room.

"Oh, Jeeezuus! You Guys!!! Open a damn window and air out this room!"

Between fits of laughter and more farting I pointed at the wide open windows and choked out
They are!

I was becoming more aware of how time seemed to stop or slow down at Brent. Some weeks so many new and interesting things would happen that it was hard to process them all. Other times a weekend would seem like it lasted a month. Then all of sudden there was a change to remind me that time was moving on. The "new dorm" was like that. I don't ever remember seeing any workers, all the construction seemed to go on while we were in class. It grew so gradually that we barely noticed the day to day changes, it seemed that it always had been under construction. One day it was just a hole in the ground with stakes marking out the footprint and the next the Board of Directors, parents and alumni showed up for the ribbon cutting ceremony and an open house to show off the new structure. It was strikingly out of place amongst the old, turn of the century green and white wooden buildings around campus; it was a reminder that time was marching forward, even on the timeless, ageless Brent campus.

Three stories high, a modern concrete and steel exterior and on the inside parquet floors, mahogany paneling throughout and a massive fireplace in the main sala. Each floor had its own sala, the top two overlooking the main floor living area. There was a large kitchenette on bottom floor, and a TV room in the basement. The rooms were enormous by previous standards. Although the original blueprints called for each room to have a balcony, this feature had been eliminated much to our disappointment. The best thing of all were the gleaming modern bathrooms, all white tile and chrome. Each floor had its own, with plenty of sinks, shower stalls, toilets and urinals to insure a minimal wait in the morning. The girls were extremely jealous of the new building and wondered why the stinky boys got the fancy dorm. We couldn't wait to move in and were sorely disappointed when we found out we would have to wait till next year to try it out. However, one weekend the water heaters went out in the Infirmary. Mr Pettitt told us we could go across the way and use the showers in the new dormitory. Most of the dorm turned out, grabbing our towels and shaving kits and headed across, each one picking a floor and shower to try out. It was wonderful, lots of hot water, clean, no peeling paint or musty mildew odors. With so many shower stalls we all got done about the same time. We were walking through the main living area when someone said
"Let's Streak!". Back in early 70's streaking was front page news, for Brent boarders it was old hat, a common hazing punishment was to be turned out of the dorm naked. Within seconds we all had our towels over our shoulders and whooping and hollering we raced across to the Infirmary. I don't know if Brent has ever had so many naked teenagers running about at one time before or since.

For some reason, the last few months of school seemed to go by in a flurry of activities; Field Day, Moving Up Day and Final Exams. Some students were dreading the exams, but I was more worried about what came after that: summer vacation. I wasn't looking forward to heading home that year, so when Jaime invited Mark Becker and I to spend a few weeks at his home in
Solano, Nueva Viscaya I eagerly accepted. I had written my parents to ask for permission and was still waiting for a reply.

So, I was despondently walking back to the dorm after my last final exam when whizzz! a piece of chalk flew past my ear. This was quickly followed by several more projectiles that bounced off my head. I looked up and there was Mr Jenista grinning at me from the classroom window.

A former Brent student himself, he was the dorm father of Hamilton Hall and taught Southeast Asian History, my favorite class that year; he was my favorite teacher during my time at Brent. He was strict, smart, funny and knew how to make history come alive. I looked forward to his class everyday.

I usually sat at his table at lunch time during the school week; Pat Dillon, Kent Rounds and I would try and sneak vinegar or
patis into his drinking glass when he wasn't looking. He would take a sip, stop and a ghost of a smile would play about his lips. This was either good or bad depending on his mood and the situation. We had a good relationship, I worked hard, studied and got good grades and he reciprocated by putting up with my antics. On the first day of class he read through the syllabus and gave us the class rules.
"Pay attention, listen carefully and take notes, I will not repeat myself."
Excuse me sir, what did you say?
"I will not repea..." that ghost of a smile played about his lips.

So, it was no surprise to see him there throwing chalk at me. School was over for the year and he was getting some payback! I gathered up the pieces of chalk that littered the ground around my feet and began firing them back at him. He ducked, laughed and threw more at me. He was a much better shot and seemed to have an unlimited supply of ammunition. I ran around to the other side of the room and climbed through a window to press my attack. He raced to the window and picked me up and and unceremoniously dumped me head first out the window where I lodged face down in the hedge. I couldn't see very good and I seemed to be stuck; I felt a sharp pain in my left eye. Mr Jenista came out with several of my classmates and they pulled me from the hedge. My face felt warm and sticky and I reached up to feel my eye when someone grabbed my wrist.
"Don't touch it!" he said as he propelled me towards the nurse's office. One of the small branches that had stopped my fall had broken off and a piece of it was now sticking out of my eye socket. We reached the clinic and the nurse looked at me and said "Oh it's you again." She always seemed to be a little put out when we came to her to tend to our injuries. I had been in the month before after fracturing my hand during a rough game of 2 on 2 basketball with Pat Dillon, Jaime and Joey Butler. She got on the phone and called Dr. Pavia to come over to Brent and look me over and while we waited for him to arrive she cleaned the blood off my face. My eye was really hurting now and I was starting to panic about the possibility of losing my eye. The doctor arrived and carefully removed the stick and put some dye in my eye which really burned. He wanted me to open my eye and that was really hard to do, but I finally got it open. Other than some scratches to the cornea and a gouge in the corner of my eye socket, it seemed to be OK. The stick had broken off before it was driven in too deep. He put some ointment in my eye and put a heavy gauze patch over it, gave me some pain killer and told me to lie still for a few hours. By the time I got to the dining hall that night everyone had heard about it and came over to gawk at my black elastic eye patch, the fact that it covered a slightly bloody piece of gauze greatly enhancing their sympathy and my status. Mr Jenista felt real bad and at dinner that night I played it up for a while, but I liked him too much to keep it up for long. I did, however, have a deep pink scar that ran from the bridge of my nose to the edge of the eye socket. I used to turn my head so the scar would show and tap my nose just to pester him.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Part 28: East of the Sun, West of the Moon

"Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet
~Rudyard Kipling

"Well, it's a marvelous night for a moondance
With the stars up above in your eyes
A fantabulous night to make romance
'Neath the cover of October skies"
~ Van Morrison

Most of the boarding student rules revolved around preventing smoking, drinking, drugs and sex. None were very effective. A big priority for the dorm parents was keeping us occupied and out of mischief, to us it seemed to be their sole mission in life. Many kids were well versed in the arts of evasion and concealment and we kept them on their toes during the school week, but especially so on the weekends; we were a handful. What they and the administration didn't seem to understand was that most of these skills and vices were acquired long before they ever got to Brent.

One weekend we were just hanging out around campus and a friend of mine said
"you want to see something? " We went into the empty senior lounge next to the dining hall and to the restroom where he pulled the medicine cabinet out of the wall. There in the now empty nook was a little ledge formed by the 2x4 framing studs and on it were a syringe, an oil lamp, a spoon and a length of rubber tube. I was shocked. I knew some of the older kids smoked pot, but I had no idea that this was going on. We had just seen the movie "Dusty and Sweets McGee" in gym class. I hated shots and needles and the scenes of the addicts injecting heroin into their tongues really freaked me out.

After drugs, the faculty were especially concerned about keeping the boys and girls from teaching each other about the birds and the bees. This was especially difficult on Brent's big campus, there were so many places a couple could sneak off to.

So, the Faculty opened and staffed the library on the weekends, they organized weekend volleyball and basketball games between students and teachers/staff. They took turns chaperoning trips on Friday and Saturday nights to the Pines, Session or John Hay movie theaters. I participated in as many of those activities that I could, even the ones I wasn't really interested in. But the one activity that Boarders rarely skipped, the most fun form of
school sponsored Boarder entertainment were the beach trips. It was counter intuitive really, putting boys together with girls in their swimsuits, because a lot of students on these trips broke most of the aforementioned rules.

For most of us it was simply a great way to get away, and for the boarders it didn't cost anything extra. Day students could sign up too, they just had to pay for the meals. Most of my friends usually went and I don't think I ever missed a trip. The long, wide white sand beaches along the Lingayen gulf were free of trash, the water clear. Vendors would rent inner tubes for fifty centavos and we would hook ourselves together and float down the coast. Older students would sneak down the beach to one of the Sari Sari stores where, for a peso they buy a cold bottle of San Miguel beer or a pack of cigarettes. After supper we would watch the sunset, then sit around the campfires, playing guitar, singing songs, roasting marshmallows. It was very romantic and many relationships blossomed after one of these trips. We would get up in the middle of the night and swim in the ocean, under water we would wave our arms, causing the phosphorescent plankton to light up like a scene from

So, once the monsoon season started to die down, sign up sheets started appearing on the little table in the dining hall. Sometimes the trips were just for the day, most often they were overnight campouts. We would load up the bus and head down the mountain to one of the many resorts located near the town of San Fernando, La Union.
Cresta Ola, Long Beach, Nalinac and Bauang were just some of the places we stayed. Or rather, campout at. While the students pitched tents in a coconut grove near the beach, some of the chaperones would get a room or two. This way we had access to showers and flushing toilets and sometimes a swimming pool. Depending on how many students signed up, the school would send a corresponding number of cooks along and sometimes the school nurse.

We are on the bus going back to Baguio late one afternoon, I was sitting on the rolled up tents in the aisle near the back of the bus. A senior and his girlfriend were on the seat next to me, on the other side were Norman and Angel. A couple of the teacher chaperones were sitting four rows up and they kept turning around and glowering at the couple next to me. When we finally arrived back at Brent they pounced on them as they alighted from the bus. After a brief argument, the boy was ordered back to his dorm and they escorted the girl back to Hamilton Hall. The word quickly spread, Toy and Becky were in trouble for engaging in sexual activity on the bus! They were being recommended for expulsion or suspension. We couldn't believe it, we had been sitting right there talking the whole way back and had not seen any illicit behavior. Norman was outraged and spent the night cutting up pairs of black dress pants into 3 inch wide strips to use as armbands. He went room to room the next morning instructing us to tie them on and wear a jacket or sweater over it. My roommate didn't want to wear one, but I said I would. One of the girls in Hamilton Hall had been working on the same thing and she passed around the home made armbands to the girl boarders. Before flag raising that day Norman handed out more of them to the day students. Some students were afraid to wear them, but many did. Then, right before the flag raising ceremony, at his signal, we all took off our jackets or sweaters. My heart was pounding wildly in my chest as I followed suit. Some students bowed their heads and raised their right arm, fist clenched as the athletes had in the 1968 Olympics. Most of us just stood at attention, eyes fixed straight ahead. We heard the gasp from some of the teachers and you could feel the ripple of fear run through the crowd. It was scary and empowering at the same time. Like most things that happened at Brent, it was the climax to what would be a rather anti-climatic day. After flag raising Norman and a few other students met with Dr McGee and Mr Craig and presented their frustrations with the charges. Eventually this would lead to Toy and Becky being given separate disciplinary hearings where they both were acquitted. Still it was exciting, even if only for a brief moment, to be standing up against something we thought was wrong. Student Power!

I went on another beach trip later that school year, this time it was just a small group of boarders and we all fit into the maroon Chevy suburban type vehicle that Brent had. One of the kids parents worked for
Voice of America and had reserved the guest house down at the beach for us.

The VOA maintained a guest house at their relay station which was right next to the US Air Force's Wallace Air Station located along the tip of Poro Point. Although there was a winding staircase down the cliffs to a tiny secluded private beach, one of the big drawing points was the large swimming pool. The guest house was appointed like an American style motel: carpet, TV (with American programs!), American sized beds and comfortable mattresses. We spent the afternoon swimming and then went over to Wallace Air Station to have milk shakes, burgers and fries at the rec center. It was a little strange after being in the boonies all these years to find this tiny little corner of America right here in the Philippines; odd to think that all the food we were eating had been shipped all the way from the US out here to this little base in the tropics.

When we got back to the guest house we found that we had locked our keys inside our rooms. I went around back to see if by any chance someone had left a window open and as I turned the corner of the house there it was.

Rising up out of the South China Sea was an enormous, almost blood red full moon. I had never seen anything like it before, I have never seen anything like it since. It seemed to fill the entire horizon and I awed and humbled by its immensity. Forgetting why I had walked back there in the first place I was drawn towards it, till at last I was standing on the edge of the cliff. I felt rather than saw Kathy come up beside me, she must have come to see where I was. We stood there in silence for what seemed like hours, watching the moon slowly rise. I knew she could feel the strength and power of the moment too.

I really liked her, but for some reason could never find a way to express my feelings for her. Now here she was, next to me in this most romantic setting, I could feel the hairs on my arm brushing against hers. I knew her fingers must only be millimeters away from mine. I wanted so badly to take her hand in mine, but I couldn't make my hand move. I don't know if it was fear of rejection or simply that I didn't want to ruin our friendship if she didn't have those kind of feelings for me. Maybe it was both.

We watched the moon rise, the orange light mirrored in the sea below us. Then we quietly walked back to the guest house, having never said a word. My heart ached. Our magic time had come and gone. There would never be a moment like that between us again.

Full moons always make me think of all the things in my life that might have been, they especially remind me of that night.