Friday, July 30, 2010

Part 33: Brother Sun, Sister Moon

"... grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned ..."

- Francis of Assisi

This was a year of momentous change for me. Maybe it was moving from middle school to high school; but not only had I finally grown a little taller, but I also had begun to see things around me differently too. New teachers, new friends, new books and new ideas were opening the world to me. I was active in extra curricular activities; the Student Council, student representative on the Disciplinary Committee, the Ganza year book staff, Brent Players and the Junior Varsity soccer team.

It was sometime in September that I got a letter from Mom telling me that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and she was going to have radical breast removal surgery in Manila, but not to worry. I did anyway and bought her some gifts at an Arts and Crafts show that was being held in Amos Hall. I went down to see her one weekend after her surgery at St. Luke's Hospital and she looked weak, tired and gray but in good spirits. Mom's brush with death had an interesting effect on my parents; it changed her and her outlook on life and parenting. She asked about me, school, if I had a girlfriend and really seemed interested in hearing my answers. It didn't seem to affect Dad at all, he was still mad about my hair and made sure I knew it.

It was while I was on the Disciplinary Committee that I got to defend my friend Leeanne Colvin. Periodically the lockers and dorm rooms were searched for contraband. During one of these searches a pack of cigarettes had been discovered under her mattress. Intelligent, an Honor Roll student, Leeanne was also brash and outspoken. The school paper ran an article about new boarding students and qouted Leeanne saying she "liked dorm life and have already broken all the rules!" This statement put her on the watch list of some of the teachers on the Disciplinary Committee and when they finally caught her at something they decided to make an example of her and expel her.

It was a dour looking group as the charges were somberly read, the incriminating evidence placed on the table before us and the recommendation for expulsion presented; I was reminded of cartoon caricatures of vultures, they seemed to be drooling. When it came my turn to speak I reminded them of her excellent scholastic record and then played my trump card: enumerating previous "crimes" and the punishments dealt by the committee to other students and noted that expulsion for having an unopened pack of cigarettes as compared to the
Campusing (being restricted to the dorm or campus) of another student for a month for being caught drinking alcohol seemed out of balance. I asked if they felt that smoking was worse than drinking and could they in good conscience deal out so severe a punishment to a good student. After several moments of uncomfortable silence the committee voted for a two week Campusing. The vultures would have to go hungry. After the results of the trial were announced and my role in the outcome got out, I had minor celebrity status and Lulie began calling me the Wizard of Words.

I saw two movies that year that subtly affected me as well:
Brother Sun, Sister Moon and Godspell. Rug took a group of us to see the former, he had a minor role working with Franco Zeffirelli on the production of Romeo and Juliet and I was interested to see this one as well. It really bowled me over, the images, the music and the message. I wanted to be a Franciscan monk too.

I loved the music of
Godspell and felt that the songs seemed vaguely familiar. The following Sunday I was sitting in chapel thumbing through the hymnal and there was one of the songs. Intrigued, I searched through the first lines index and one by one I found most of the songs from the film.

In late September we spent three days at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila to see some operettas directed by Rug. The place was enormous. The first two days we took a tour of the Center, learned about lighting and set design and watched rehearsals. The last night we dressed in our best and were escorted to our reserved seats in the nose bleed section. Still, we could see and hear the performances fairly well. This was the first time I had seen an opera performance and it was exciting to be there knowing that my teacher was the director. We watched scenes from Madame Butterfly, Rigoletto and Faust. After the show ended, Rug came out and took his bow and we embarrassed him by standing up and screaming, hooping and hollering! Not proper Opera etiquette!

After the show eleven of us crammed into Mr Pettitt's little
Minica and went to the cast party. It was a tight fit, with elbows and knees all akimbo and me with my face smashed tight up against the glass of the rear hatch as we zipped in and out of traffic through the busy night streets of Manila. The party was a lavish affair, with tables piled high with food. Waiters in white jackets roamed the crowd carry trays of hors d' oeuvres, others carrying trays of champagne. There was caviar to go along with the champagne, neither of which I cared for. I had a champagne cocktail which was a little tastier and grabbed a plate and filled it up. Leigh was really enjoying herself, reveling at being able to hob-knob with the rich and powerful high society folks of Manila. I was more interested in the free food and being able to drink cocktails without retribution.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Part 32: After the Fall

"The theater is so endlessly fascinating because it's so accidental. It's so much like life"

~ Arthur Miller

"Cause the free wind is blowin' through your hair
and the days surround your daylight there.
You're gonna go, I know"
~ Dewy Bunnell

Music became an integral part of my boarding school experience, helping me to express my thoughts and feelings. I soon came to delineate my years at Brent by the changing styles of Rock & Roll.

I woke every morning to the sounds of music blasting from Gordon Strachan's room. Usually he would start the day with Stevie Wonder's Inner Visions, or Rod Stewart's Gasoline Alley, I learned the lyrics to those albums through the walls dividing our bedrooms. I loved his extensive record collection. Gordon came from England and looked and dressed like Rod. If he was in a good mood he would let me thumb through his shelves of records carefully reading the liner notes, if he was in a really good mood he would let me select an album and play it. This did not happen too often as he usually woke up cranky and irritable and would yell insults and criticisms at my lack of musical knowledge. I didn't care as long as I got to hear the music.

Long before playing
air guitar became a regular part of Pop Culture, Gordon would be in his room jamming with Robert Plant and Jimmie Page. I thought he was a total freak but I loved the music. Led Zeppelin IV: Stairway to Heaven, Going to California, Rock and Roll were just a few of my favorite tracks.

Rug had come to Brent from the American School in Rome. We were a little awed by this sophisticated, cosmopolitan teacher. While in Italy he had worked with composer/conductor Gian Carlo Menotti and film director Franco Zeffirelli. He spoke with his hands, passionately gesturing, throwing in Italian words here and there. We learned to knock on his door and say "Permesso?" and he'd call out "Avanti!".

Rug was a busy guy. Besides his regular English Literature classes he also was the adviser for the school newspaper and yearbook; and he was directing plays and working with the Manila Opera Company.

After school he also conducted a workshop called "Sensitivity". Leigh, Jaime, Elmer and I were in this workshop and it changed the way I thought about my friends and people in general. We would each take turns talking about things that were bothering us and then we each got a shot at telling the person what we didn't like about them. Tough stuff and painful. One of the things I came away with is that sometimes the irritating habits we find so infuriating in a person are exactly the same ones we have. So, I found myself reflecting on my own character more and more.

Soon after school started Rug held tryouts for the Arthur Miller play After the Fall which was to be presented towards the end of October. While most of the lead roles went to Junior and Senior students, my friend Leigh who was a sophomore had a major role and I even got two bit parts as a porter and a student. The set was surreal and modernistic, black ramps and catwalks, a chair, a park bench and street light. Jaime worked on the sets and helped man the lights.

I can't say the play was a popular one, it was very confusing and kind of boring even after Rug explained it to us. We worked hard for almost two months, rehearsing and memorizing lines, building and painting sets.

All but the initial and final seconds of the play take place in the main character
Quentin's brain, which is reflected by a set consisting of a single chair before a guard tower, which is itself surrounded by a giant, winding ramp made up of crevices, pits, and abutments. The plot unfolds over a period of time; characters and occurrences appear as the protagonist remembers them, and, reflecting the nature of the mind, they often disappear and their stories remain unresolved until later in the play, when they spontaneously reappear again. Quentin sits around and moans and groans about how miserable his life is. Whatever. Can you say LOSER!!!

The biggest controversy was that one of the characters appears on stage in a robe which she opens to reveal her... bikini clad body. OK, in the original play she is naked but this was the Philippines in the early 70's and it shocked the Baguio community plenty. I was down in one of the pits shining a flashlight up at her and it shocked me!

After the play was over we had a cast party in the Senior Lounge and all signed a program for Rug which I embellished with little caricatures of various cast members. Rug told me he had a speaking part for me in his next production:
Murder in the Cathedral.

Jaime's parents gave him a record player and he slowly began to build a record collection of his own.
Simon and Garfunkel, Jim Croce, James Taylor, Cat Stevens and Seals and Crofts were the artists of his taste. I waited a long time to make my first record purchase. Part of it was because I had no record player of my own, but really it was because for me it was such a monumental decision, akin to buying your first book. What you bought said a lot about you and your character.

So, come Friday we would take our allowances and head downtown. Most times we would just walk till an empty taxi came by, in the early 70's it was still possible to walk all the way to the Pines Hotel and never have a taxi pass you. Our first stop on our weekly pilgrimage was D&S grocery where we bought a quart of
Magnolia chocolate milk and a jar of Lady's Choice dill pickles and shared them as we strolled on down Session Road. By the time we reached Assumption Road we had finished both off and we headed up the hill towards Mabini Street. The stores by SLU and UP was where we shopped for books, records and posters. I looked through the bins, wondering what it would be. Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Steppenwolf, Emerson, Lake and Palmer; what would it be? We narrowed our choices down and finally Jaime picked "Diamond Girl" by Seals & Crofts. I ended up with "Homecoming" by America and "Songs for Beginners" by Graham Nash. I still have these albums today.