Monday, July 07, 2014

Another High School Caper

High School Shira was exactly as cool as she thought she was

By popular demand, Shirby's Dream World is proud to present another high school caper. This one is not as comedically tragic as the code red story, but it is equally shocking in its unpredictability. This is a story about a sentence that has haunted me with its thrilling complexity since the age of seventeen. A turn of phrase so mysterious that it transformed an otherwise normal school outing into a life-altering misadventure.

Every May, around forty students and four teachers spent a weekend up north at an entirely student-run leadership retreat. In 2007, I was one of those students. (I also went in 2008, but nothing nearly as remarkable happened that year). We played sports, did trust exercises, talked about school issues, and met people from different social groups. This was just before Guitar Hero invaded our lives, and so I view it fondly as one of my childhood's last weekends of innocent, wholesome fun. 
So effing cool
Mr. G (now sadly deceased) was one of the four brave faculty members that accompanied us that fateful weekend. He was the embodiment of our school's drama department, and not simply because he was the only member (though this is also true -- it was a small school). He had the flamboyance one would expect of a drama teacher, coupled with the low, gravelly voice and perfect diction of a seasoned stage performer. He was tall, thin, and bespeckled. Basically, if Anderson Cooper mated with Gus from Recess and their offspring had a child with a pencil, that child would have been Mr. G. I never took a drama class, so my only prolonged interaction with him was when I nearly had to replace one of the leads in the school play on opening night because she had locked herself in a closet. Another story for another time. 

As I said, the retreat was led by the students, so the teachers mainly kept to themselves. We tended to see them only at mealtimes or occasionally strolling the campground at night. Now remember, this was 2007, back when the days were long, liquorice cost only a ha'penny, and kids could be kids. All this to say, that for some unidentifiable reason we had no curfew. And like any group of kids with limited supervision and the bedtime of our choosing, we decided to stay up all night.

It's 4am and High School Shira is still the coolest cat around

We squished everyone and their Doritos into one cabin and frolicked the night away. We played games, sang songs, and cry-laughed over freshly developed inside jokes as only schoolkids can. This was back before we knew about irony or how cool it was, so we were quite literally and unapologetically high on life. Chock full of youthful fancy and nacho cheese flavouring, we decided to climb to the top of the nearby 'mountain' (read: small hill) and view the sunrise from its peak. What could go wrong? 

So at about 4:30am, we donned our hoodies, grabbed our flashlights, and began our ascent. Now, it turned out that this whole climbing endeavour was a lot tougher than we had imagined. For one thing, the ground was very loose and it was difficult to get our footing. For another, it was pitch black (duh) and heavily forested, causing trees to seemingly spring into our paths at a moments notice. We quickly began to realize that we should have considered our plan more carefully, or at least invested in a Sherpa. Finally, sweaty and panting, we reached the summit. 

The rush of excitement quickly dissipated, however, when it became clear that we had further miscalculated. First of all, there was no sign of the sun. Since it was only just after five, unbeknownst to us, the sun wouldn't be up for another hour. Second, we could barely even see the sky because the canopy of the trees was so thick. This was clearly not a retreat for the smartest students in the school. So just like the many generations of suburban kids before us, once nature did not conform immediately to our wants, we opted to bail. 

This was the best picture of the camp I could find. You can sort of make out the hill/trees in the background.
Now making our way down was doubly as treacherous as climbing up had been and we were soon exhausted with the effort. Grumpy and drained, we took a break at about halfway to commiserate. Our grumblings were interrupted, however, when we noticed a beam of light from below moving quickly towards us. When the light reached the bottom of the hill, we could see it was being carried by a rather displeased looking Mr. G. (For whatever reason, in my memory, Mr. G was holding a lantern, which obviously makes no sense and is clearly not true. But a lantern is way more majestic than a flashlight, so whatever, we're going with lantern.) He shone his lantern on us, illuminating our sweat-streaked, guilty faces.

"What on earth are you doing?!?" he yelled up to us. And given his perfect diction and masterful ability to project, we understood him perfectly.
"...We wanted to watch the sunrise..." we offered, pathetically.

And instead of berating us for being out of bed in an unknown forest in the middle of the night, Mr. G responded with the most hilariously unexpected retort to this pitiful explanation imaginable:

"THIS," he furiously bellowed, "IS AN EROSION ZONE!"

That's right. An erosion zone.

To this day, it is difficult for me to explain how hilarious I find this statement.
1. What does that even mean and why was he so visibly terrified by it? Were we further damaging the soil by standing on it? Were we in danger of triggering some sort of dirt avalanche?
2. Why did he try to scare us into obedience by using the term 'erosion' - something that is too slow to even be noticed by the naked eye?
3. How did he even KNOW this was an erosion zone? Did he make it up? And if so, why would he pick such an obscure concept, especially given item two.
4. Again, there was no mention of how incredibly stupid one has to be to walk into a deeply forested area in the middle of the night with nothing but flashlights and childish optimism. Nope. His priority was to inform us that the ground was imperceptibly moving beneath our feet.

Given the surprising hilarity of Mr. G.'s admonishment and my inability to contain myself no matter how inappropriate the situation, I obviously began to laugh hysterically. Mr. G. angrily informed me that there was "nothing funny about this." I didn't have time to go through the above list with him, so I just hastily tried to get myself under control.

We made our way down the rest of the hill and back to the campground. Just a bunch of kids chased out of the woods by the threat of erosion.

The sun had finally begun to appear by this point, and satisfied with the night's events, most of the group dispersed to their beds for a few hours of sleep. My friend and I were too riled up, so after several failed attempts to coax others to wait out the remaining hours with us, we went into the dining hall to try and locate some breakfast. There we found Mr. G. sitting at a table in the corner, unashamedly reading Us Weekly. To his credit, he showed no annoyance at the fact that we had still not gone to bed. He simply offered to pour us some coffee and discuss who wore it best.

On no sleep, High School Shira rocks aviators on the ride home so no one forgets how cool she is
I would love to tell you that "this is an erosion zone" became a favoured expression in the final months of that school year. But it did not. It was too perplexing, too perfect, to be ridiculed in this way. And though the sands of time, much like the grains of dirt on that hill, have eroded away the perfection of many High School memories, this one still remains unquestionably sacred.


D said...

Oh the laugh cryn

Lynne said...

Just hilarious!
Loved the pictures!

Erin Cerenzia said...

Unrealllll.. Please write about the girl who locked herself in the closet soon xo