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!

1 comment:

  1. As I remember that day working in the pig pens, it was also the day of the Jr-Sr Prom. It really did not matter to me since I was too young to be attending but I think those attending only had a 30 minute window to get ready for the evening. My escape route was under a hole in the fence by the gym. A great time was had by all that night at Mario's....Ross