Saturday, September 25, 2010

Part 37: Visitors

We were rehearsing twice a day now and Rug was pulling out what remained of his hair, trying to get us to properly enunciate the lyrics for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. We finally got it down fairly well, but I think he just gave up hoping we would get it perfect. Besides, we were going hoarse from all the singing and the kitchen was now supplying hot tea steeped with ginger root to sooth our sore throats. It was a little awkward performing in the narrow Amos assembly hall, there wasn't enough room for the chorus and the band to join the actors on the same stage, so we were positioned about halfway down the room while the band was off to one side of the stage. We were facing the audience so we couldn't see the action on stage, focusing our attention on Rug, just where he wanted it to be! Jaime and Elmer really got in to their roles and we picked up on their energy and sang with gusto!

Between theater productions our Junior Varsity team got the opportunity to play soccer on the Varsity team. We were playing an
exhibition game with PMA (the Philippine Military Academy) at Brent and they were killing us. They were physically so much bigger than the players on our high school team and injuries were taking their toll. The varsity coach (Mr Jenista) was even playing trying to keep us from looking too bad. Early in the game the Coach Allegre passed the word for the JV team to suit up and I ran back to the dorm to grab my uniform. He was going to rotate us in as filler to give the Varsity players a chance to rest. As I stepped off of the Neutral on to the asphalt my cleats slipped on the pavement and I landed on my ass! Right in front of the girlfriend. Ah, the humiliation! But I didn't look back to see if Trini was laughing at me and headed gingerly down to the field. Just as I got to the top of the steps I saw Mark Becker trying to steal the ball from one of the PMA forwards. They both kicked at the ball at the same time and Mark Becker fell over. He tried to stand up but fell over again. The ref stopped the game and Coach Allegre ran over to see if he was OK. By the time I got to our bench he was helping Mark off the field. A broken leg!
"you're in Walter" ... uh, that would be me.
My stomach was in knots as I ran out on to the field. These PMA guys were huge! Well, maybe our guys can keep the ball on the opposite end I thought. It didn't last long and soon this human tank of a player came barreling down the field towards me and I bravely raced forward to meet him. My foot connected with the ball, his shoulder hit mine and then the world got funny. I was flipping
horizontally in the air, I saw the sky three times before landing on my back with the wind knocked out of me. I struggled to my feet trying to divine the location of the ball and hoped he wouldn't score. Our goalie managed to save the ball and once again I prayed that the ball would stay on the other side of the field. No such luck. Here came the tank again and when he spied me he got this big grin on his face. This time he just ran right over me. Literally. I saw stars and felt my teeth rattle as he stepped on my head, then heard the referee's whistle and felt someone lifting me up, the field out of focus; there wasn't any part of my body that didn't hurt.
"Walter you're out!" ...Thank You Jesus.

On the first of March the International Club (
Pilipino, French and Spanish classes) took a field trip to the old colonial Spanish town of Vigan. We left Brent around 5:30 one morning and stopped in Bauang for breakfast provided by the parents of my classmate Bessie Manaois. When we got to Vigan a few hours later we headed over to St. Paul's Cathedral with it's free standing octagonal bell tower for a tour of the church and the Archbishop's palace all dating back to the late 17oo's. We then toured the Mestizo district with it's old Spanish homes, considered to be the best preserved colonial Spanish town in Asia. It was a city steeped in Philippine history: home to Father Jose Burgos, one of three priests executed in the early 1800's during a rebellion against Spanish rule; a hundred years later it was the headquarters for General Emilio Aguinaldo (first president of the Philippines) who fought against the Spanish and then the Americans. Then the Governor of Ilocos Sur invited our group over for a lavish barbecue luncheon at his ranch. The meal was more Spanish than Filipino in style, pit cooked beef, pork and goat served on sword-like skewers, Spanish appetizers called tapas, big platters of paella, meat filled empanadas and leche flan for desert. There was San Miguel beer and icy cold pitchers of Sangria, which unfortunately we were not able to taste. Well, at least not when any of the teachers were looking! Afterwards, stuffed and sleepy, we went back to town to shop in the open air markets and stores. Then, to top off a most excellent outing, on the way back to Baguio we stopped at the beach to swim before returning to Brent.

A few days later our dorm mother Mrs. Pettitt gave birth to a baby boy! We were excited to have another addition to our dorm. All was well with the world. Then one day all my sense of well being vanished. I received a letter from Mom telling me that my Aunt and Uncle were coming from Japan and that her and Dad were going to bring them up to Baguio for a visit. At the bottom of the letter she wrote
"your father wants you to make sure you cut your hair..."

We had been reading
My Name is Asher Lev in Rug's English Literature class, the story of a boy with an artistic talent, a gift his parents, relatives and neighbors cannot relate to and do not understand. I saw my life mirrored in those pages, strong domineering father often absent from home, parents wrapped in work and academia with little time or patience for their son. While I found solace in the words, I found no solutions or answers. Only the directive to be true to ones self. So, of course I didn't get my hair cut. As the day of their visit neared, I grew more agitated, this was not going to be a good thing I predicted. My friends grew concerned about me, so much so that they approached some of my teachers and broached the subject. I guess they were concerned too because on the day they arrived I got called to the office and was told my family was at the gate, but to wait at the office. Then Mr Jenista went down to the gate to escort my parents on to campus. I could see him talking with my parents before they began the walk up the hill.

The tension was palpable as we walked towards each other but before my Dad could say anything my Aunt said
"Paul his hair isn't that long! The way you talked I thought it must be down to his knees! My son's hair is about as long as his!" This simple statement endeared her to me for life. It not only altered the way my parents viewed me, it toned down the way Dad spoke to me. Well, a little bit anyway. Mr Jenista gave my family a tour of the Brent campus while I went back to class. Later that afternoon I changed into some nicer clothes and met them for dinner at Mario's. I'd like to say we had a pleasant visit but you can see from the expressions on everyone's faces that no one is too happy.

I didn't see too much of them the rest of their stay in Baguio (the first and only time my parents came to the campus to see me), they toured the city and the markets, visited some other Lutheran missionaries and then they were gone.

Below are excerpts from the program for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Part 36: The Great Escape

"All the best stories in the world are but one story in reality - the story of escape. It is the only thing which interests us all and at all times..."
~ Walter Bagehot

"Ah, Herr Bartlett. And Herr MacDonald. We are together again. You're going to wish you had never put us to so much trouble..."

I adhered to my ritual when I returned to school: plane to Manila, taxi to bus station, bus to Baguio, taxi to Brent, two or three days with the campus to myself. Freedom. On the bus I would close my eyes in silent benediction, waiting for the first wafts of cool angel's wings to brush my cheeks, the scent of pine trees holy incense, then lifting my lids in supplication. Salvation. Like a returning soldier or a man released from prison, I wanted to fall to my knees and kiss the ground; sometimes I did. Zion.

Jaime showed up the next day, his family was spending a few days at the United Methodist Mission cabins. He invited me over and we went down to Jean Clark's house to hang out. The Clark's had a tire swing on a long rope and there were a bunch of kids already there climbing to the top of a platform and jumping off. First one kid would drag the tire up to the top of the platform and start it swinging, when it returned they would climb on and then another kid would leap on the next time it came back. This would continue, with each cycle the tire getting further away from the platform, the rope twisting and spinning, kids on the tire making way for the next jumper. This was a rough game, there was no telling where the jumpers head, elbows, knees or feet would strike and sometimes the jumper would miss completely and belly flop in the dirt below. We did this for hours and were all pretty scraped and bruised up when Michelle Woods leaped from the platform and missed the rope. She managed to get one hand on the tire and another on someone's belt but was drug beneath the tire for several feet before letting go. This was a mistake because when the tire came back it struck her in the head. We all quickly piled off to see how she was doing. She had a bloody lip and bruised face; there were some tears and some first aid, then back to the swing!

That first Sunday back we had a new student at our table, Linda Schwartzendruber. Like Leigh, she had moved to the Philippines from Hong Kong and Leigh was tickled pink to have someone to talk to about it. Now there were
4 "L's" at our table: Leeanne, Lulie, Leigh and Linda. Intelligent, sharp, witty and cunning, they were to become a cardinal force never to be crossed. We were fortunate to be on their good side for the most part. Except on one occasion, when we were invited to join the girls for dinner off campus. Jaime and I had our "SPs" (special permits), were dressed and heading to the gate and as we passed the canteen below the kitchen we could smell supper cooking. Tapa. Our favorite. Tapa is a marinated then cured beef dish that the cooks at Brent made especially well, although not particularly beloved by those with western palates. Neither Jaime or I said anything but our pace slowed and when we reached the covered walkway we stopped. Then without ever saying a word we directed our feet up the hill to the dining hall. Boy, were they pissed that we stood them up! But they were serving tapa! I tried to explain.

The second half of the school year started out with the same flurry of activity as the first. First was the Science Fair, then Rug held auditions and began rehearsals for
Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. This was a joint effort between the upper and lower schools with some help from teachers, parents and some students from St. Louis University. The lower school was going to act out the story while the upper school was going to do the singing. Jaime got the part of the Narrator, Mr Pettitt was singing the part of Joseph and Elmer Strasser was Pharoah.

There were field trips, beach trips and dances: the anthropology class headed up into the mountains, the Explorer Scouts went to Bobok, the Art Department went to Crystal Cave and then dug some clay to experiment with. I tried to kiss Cecily Drury on the way back from the beach but Terrence Spencer, a perennial thorn in my side, kept turning around and grinning at us, chanting
Mark and Cecily sitting in a tree... and that is as far as that went. Brent had a Valentine's Day dance at the Mile Hi Club on John Hay where Kathy Duncan was voted Queen, with Cindy Johnson and my classmate Marie Strasser (voted Princesses) placing second and third.

Madame Chan, the proprietor of the
Old Pagoda came and gave a lecture on Li Po, Chinese poetry and art. She got a big laugh and lots of applause when she said if we didn't know who Li Po was we were not getting a good education.

And then Lulie wrote an article for the school paper about the quality of food in the dining hall which culminated in the "Great Escape". The food was getting a little
iffy. There was a lot of grumbling amongst the boarders, some kids regularly filled up on Freddie's burgers before supper or visited the dorm canteens after hours. Sometimes Domingo, our waiter, would put the platter on the table, poke at it with the serving spoon and sniff disparagingly. The cooks were doing the best they could with the budget, menu and recipes provided and they knew when they had produced something questionable. Part of the problem was that a lot of the kids were used to better fare, few were familiar with the Filipino dishes that occasionally frequented our tables and none were used to institutional type meals that now graced our plates.

I don't know where or when the idea originated, but soon the topic of skipping off campus to eat somewhere was being whispered everywhere. The Seniors and Juniors formulated the plans, issued strict instructions, picked a date, made reservations and alerted our friends in the kitchen not to expect the usual number of victims. The basic plan was we were to abide by school rules (other than sneaking off campus!), stick together (no side excursions) and return to the campus
en masse. We snuck off campus in twos or threes one Friday night, each group picking different locations to jump the fence and headed to Mario's for supper. Mario's was a great little Italian restaurant owned by the Benitez family and a favorite haunt of ours. All the Benitez kids went or had gone to Brent, so it was a little tricky because we were known, but it all worked out and the faculty never suspected a thing. Before we began eating Norman tapped his glass with a spoon, we stood up and said our school dinner prayer.
Bless us O Lord, this food for our use and us to Thy service, make us ever mindful of the needs of others, through Christ our Lord, Amen.

After supper, the bill paid and tips left, we walked back to campus, singing songs, laughing till we got in sight of the Brent gate, where it all died out.

There waiting for us were Mr Pettitt and Mr Jenista and they did not look happy. They divided up the girls and the guys and marched us back to the dorms. We got a lecture when we got back to the dorm about breaking the rules and respecting the feelings of the dietitian and the cooking staff, we were informed that the entire dorm (
sans the cowards who didn't go) were campused for the rest of the weekend and Mr Pettitt hinted there would be additional punishments as well. Then we were sent off to bed.

The additional punishments began bright and early the next morning when we were all awakened and told to get up, get dressed in work clothes and go eat breakfast. Domingo and the other waiters pretended to be angry with us, frowning and wagging their fingers at us. A few of the cooks stuck their heads out of the kitchen and grinned to see so many tired faces, the biggest turnout for a Saturday breakfast yet!

After we ate Mr Pettitt and Mr Jenista announced that we would be forming work details. The boys dorm was led down to the pig pens, we were handed shovels and wheelbarrows and told that we would be digging pits for cesspools and emptying the old ones. The new ones were dug by early afternoon, but it was the emptying of the full pits that was giving us trouble. The contents had the color and consistency of stiff chocolate pudding , but there just was no easy way to remove it without getting filthy. A wooden plank was placed over the pit and we took turns walking it and shoveling it out. The smell was overwhelming. It was a wretched, dirty mess. Every so often someone would yell
"Who's shit is this?" and the rest of us would shout in reply "Pettitt's!" or "Jenista's!".
They just laughed, we were doing the dirty work.

As the day progressed the plank grew slippery with manure. I was on the plank and turned to empty my shovel full into a wheel barrow when I slipped off the board. Up to my chest in pig manure! I struggled to get out because no one really wanted to give me a hand! I stripped out of my reeking clothes and there were leaches on my arms and legs, fortunately none in my underwear! Someone used a cigarette to get them off me and then I headed back to the dorm to take a shower. At least I got out of digging!