Monday, April 4, 2011

Part 50: For Whom the Bell Tolls

Dong! Dong! Dong!

For four long years I would jerk awake to the sound of the Chapel bells pealing loudly every Sunday morning beginning at 6:00 a.m., calling the staff and their families to the early morning service.

Donggggg! .......
The Kalinga Quasimodo would wait for the last echo to fade away, allowing you to drift off to sleep again, before yanking the rope again.
Dong! Dong! This would continue on for a long miserable hour, then a blissful reprieve of an hour and half of silence before the bells would begin ringing again.

Dong! ........ Dong! Dong!
now ringing to call parishioners to the second service of the morning. By then most of us had resigned ourselves to the fact that our sleep was over and got up.

Dong!.... Dong! Dong!

For four long years I listened to the complaints and threats about the Chapel bell and how they would resolve the problem - everything from placing a roll of toilet paper over the clapper to stealing the entire bell! Anyone trying to sleep in on Sundays had a tough time of it. There was no escaping it, the bells could be plainly heard everywhere on campus, the sound bouncing and echoing off the hills and buildings. The boys had it worse than the girls, as our dorms were situated closest to the Chapel.

My first two years in my room below the Infirmary it wasn't too bad, our dorm parents made us younger kids get up anyway and go to breakfast
every Sunday at 7:00. Fresh fruit, juice, pancakes, bacon, scrambled eggs, fried eggs and sometimes cheese omelets. Sunday morning breakfasts were the best. But, for the upper classmen trying to sleep in, it really must have been hell, especially for the boys in Weiser Hall, directly across from the Chapel.

Dong! ........ Dong! Dong!

We were not the first, decades of boarding students had their dreams rudely interrupted by the loud clanging. Generations of boarders plotted and conspired against this usurper of their Sunday morning slumbers. It was something that unified and joined us together, our mutual dislike for the Chapel Bell.

Now in my fifth year at Brent, ensconced with all the male boarders in the New Boys Dorm, I became more acutely aware of
that damn bell. Situated almost parallel with the Chapel, I could clearly see the bell tower from my bedroom window. I tried stuffing cotton balls in my ears, I learned to sleep with a pillow over my head, turned the radio on in an attempt to drown out the noise. Nothing worked. Weekly I listened to this new batch of boarders bitching about the bell. Bleary eyed, they would sit on the student lounge steps cursing bell and bell ringer. Schemes and plans, variations of which I had heard a thousand times before spewed from their lips.

One Saturday afternoon, in the spring 1976, I decided enough was enough. I was done with just cussing about it.
If you hate it so much
why don't you guys do something about it?
There were some non-committal responses and mutterings.
Fine. I'll do something about it.
Leaping to my feet I pointed to Andy McMullen and another kid.

You guys come with me.

Sending one to get a roll of toilet paper, Andy and I scrounged up a ladder. Heart pounding, with the two kids holding the ladder I climbed up into the bell tower. Once up there I realized that the toilet paper roll idea would not work. What to do. Then looking at the knot an idea popped into my head. Carefully reaching up I leaned forward and untied the rope from the bell - just enough to disable the bell, but not enough for the rope to fall. Success!

The following morning was blissfully sweet, not one ring from the hated chapel bell. Silence. Blessed Silence. For the first time in almost five years I got to sleep in. Some who claimed to be awake swore they heard a low clunk as the clapper vainly tried to strike the bell. By supper that night the word had spread amongst the boarders. We were instant heroes!

On Monday morning, however, for the second time that school year I was called into the Headmaster's office. Someone had seen us carrying the ladder. Teachers were outraged. Some wanted us expelled, others wanted us suspended for a month. Dr Ralph Rodriguez was in charge and asked us for a description of our shenanigans. I told him the whole story in vivid detail, and he laughed when I was done. Shaking his head he said "Boys, I know it was just a silly prank, but the staff is very irate about the whole thing and are screaming for your blood! I am going to have to do something. I am considering suspending you from school for two weeks."

Vaguely I could see that it had less to do with the Chapel Bell and more to do with the general labor situation at Brent and the new generation of "disrespectful" students. They needed an outlet for their frustrations and we were it. Better than being expelled, but still bad news. Gathering up my courage I spoke up.

But Sir, just last week Dick was caught with alcohol in his room and he was only campused for a month.

Dr Ralph swiveled in his chair looking out the window across the campus. His desk clock ticking loudly, we waited in silence awaiting our sentence. Finally, he turned back with a big smile on his face.
"Ok. Two weeks campused, woodpile duty. Apologize to the staff. That's my final decision."

It was a wonderful world.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Part 49: Surprised By Joy

"To love at all is to be vulnerable.
Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken."
-C.S. Lewis

It was a warm, dry January when school started again. The soccer field and Neutral were not their normal vibrant green. Noticeably absent was the daily afternoon shower that usually rolled in between 3:30 and 4:00. Water shortages were already beginning to be a problem around the city.

We took advantage of all this warm weather by playing football, Frisbee and Red Rover after school. The football games were played with no pads or helmets, 12 to 14 players per team, all on the field at the same time. Other than the quarterback there were no set positions, everyone was a linebacker and a potential receiver.
We'd play with abandon, crashing in to each other like some medieval horde, without regard to potential injuries. Clothes were torn, lots of cracked skulls, bloody noses and bruised ribs.

We played Red Rover the same way. One day I was sprinting across the line when I was grabbed from behind. I wrapped my arms around a tree and tried to pull myself across. Someone grabbed one leg, somebody else grabbed another, lifting me off the ground, trying to pull me away from the tree. Then a third person peeled my hands off the tree. I slid down the tree on my face, the bark peeling away strips of skin from my nose and cheeks. Jack and Jaime helped me to my feet. I thought I was down only for a second, but when I got up Neutral was mostly empty, the opposing team having vanished. Where did everybody go?
"Well, you know, people are kind of scared of you"
I didn't know what to make of that, I guess I had been a little intense lately.

Brent was competing in the annual week of citywide
PRISSA games and the whole school went down to watch. Basketball, soccer, track and field events were part of the line up at Burnham Park. Mario Sarmiento and Peter Naylor were especially talented in the track and field events and we whooped and hollered every time they took the field. Peter was from New Zealand and liked to compete barefoot which endeared him to the local mountain men.

After the competitions ended for the day we would wander about downtown, shopping or getting something to eat. Some days there was enough time to catch a movie before I had to be back on campus. We would go as a group and one day I found myself sitting next to my former girlfriend from my very first year at Brent, who now was a Sophomore. Her friends were trying to hook us up, but it was a casual friendship; we hung out together, she made me laugh. That afternoon while watching
The Return of the Pink Panther she reached out and took my hand in hers. Still a little gun shy, I wasn't sure about this, but I was surprised to find that after four years my hand still remembered hers. In that round about way that people do, we talked about going steady again, she wanted to, I was hesitant about entering into another serious relationship. I told her I needed to think about it and promised her an answer soon.

I was one of half a dozen science fair winners from Brent who would be going to the Regional High School Science Fair being held in the town of San Fernando. We loaded up the bus with our exhibits and headed down to the beach. It was anti-climatic for me, I got eliminated when the judges came through during the very first round of judging. That was fine with me, I could hardly concentrate anyway.

That night after supper I walked down to the beach by myself and watched the waves crashing on the shore. I thought about the girl and the decision I had to make, I didn't know what to do.
I was in turmoil, once again thoughts and feelings I thought I had left behind came boiling to the surface. I prayed for guidance, I prayed for peace of soul and mind, I prayed for release from my despair. The wind whipped about me as I paced back and forth in the dark; and then there on the beach a wave of joy passed through me.

No angel appeared, the heavens didn't open up, there was no burning bush, I heard no voices. But there on the sand, by the churning sea, time stopped for a moment and I was left with hope and peace.

In the morning I caught a bus back to Baguio. I was eager to get back home and see the girl. By the time I got to Brent the calm I had felt the night before had left me and I reviewed the pros and cons once again... I was going up the hill towards Ogilby Hall when it occurred to me all of a sudden. I could trust her. She would never lie to me, she would always be there. Walking through the locker room I saw her standing by the book store, talking with some friends. I slipped up beside her and she searched my face for an answer. She must have found it, because she smiled and took my hand.