Notes From Tha Cove

21 April 2012 by , No Comments

“Notes From Tha Cove” will be a multi-part blog series of short stories that tell episodes in my life during my time in Paradise Cove. They will be told informally and colloquially and will not assume any knowledge of Paradise Cove, WWASP practices, or WWASP in general. I will not always be the victim; I will also be telling stories in which I come off as the villain. The reader should understand that not only was the bullying of other students accepted in the WWASP worldview, it was often encouraged as a sign that a kid was “working the program”, furthermore, bullying was required once a student reached the upper levels and became junior staff. That isn’t to excuse my behavior. I had a choice. I made it. I did what I had to do to get out, and believe me, the things that were done to me aren’t the only things that haunt me about my WWASP experience. That being said, these stories are being told in the hope that, if not the average person, at least those in the program will derive a measure of humor while reading them. We WWASP kids are all at least a little sick, after all.

**Reading the episodes in numerical order is recommended**

Notes From Tha Cove 1 – Electrocuted

21 April 2012 by , No Comments

By Bill Boyles

This is the story of how I was electrocuted. Yes, electrocuted. And no, not shocked, or even really badly shocked. We’re talking full-on, having a seizure electrocuted. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I was a Level 3, the highest of the Lower Levels, trusted to a point and given certain privileges, but not yet an Upper Level, also known as Junior Staff. In Samoa, one of the questionable “privileges” Level 3′s such as myself had was called Supplies. You see, there were 3 beaches at Paradise Cove, each it’s own separate cove, with rocky points of land between them. Each beach was mostly an independently functioning unit. The point is, my beach, Sinalele (see-na-lay-lay), had over 150 kids at this time. That gives an estimate of 450 kids. 450 teenage boys plus the staff need an enormous amount of food and other supplies to function. And it being that the site chosen for Paradise Cove was not only a beach, but a beach at the foot of a gigantic cliff whose only nod to accessibility was a steep path snaking down the hundred feet or more, that meant that every single thing on the beach from food to medicine to toilet paper to building supplies had to be carried down on someone’s back. The staff looked around to figure out whose back that should be and their eyes landed on a huge pool of free child labor…the boys. So, basically, one sunny, hot day in 1998 (I think) i found myself schlepping supplies down a cliff and schlepping bags of trash back up. I got sweaty, plus not only did I get disgusting trash juice on myself, but also I had to carry down bunches of bananas and got their nasty, sticky sap on myself too. I was entitled to a shower, and even though the showers had no hot water, I wanted my shower bad. Protocol dictated I inform my family’s father, or in layman’s terms I needed to tell the staff member who watched over my group of 15-20  students who did everything together. So I went to tell him. My family was eating lunch at the time. Now, at Paradise Cove, even a simple activity like eating didn’t buy you a break from the craziness.  No, no, even while you were eating your ears were assaulted by the playing of stupid motivational tapes like Tony Robbins and Zig Zigler. In order to blast motivational tapes at a bunch of beat-up kids trying to eat lunch, one needs a tape player. And in Samoa, because the electrical current is twice American current, that means one needs a transformer. The transformers were small metal boxes with wires coming out both sides, one side being a male Samoan plug and the other a female American plug. The wires weren’t very long, and so this necessitated placing the transformer on the window sill of the fale (fah-lay), or hut, my family lived in. The only thing was, the fales had no windows. Instead, they just had openings where windows would be. And to keep us from stealing each other’s stuff, the windows had metal chicken wire nailed over them. Stay with me folks I promise electrocution is imminent. So, I was wet and sweaty, the transformer was sitting on the window sill touching the metal chicken wire. And to top it all off, my family had found a piece of scrap chicken wire to put just outside the door so we could use it to scrape the sand off our feet before coming in. The family father was having trouble making the tape machine work. Little did he know that’s because the transformer was shorting out into the chicken wire. I walked up to the hut, stepped on the foot-scraper, and went to lean into the door to tell him I’m going to take a shower. As I leaned, I put my hand on the screen and BAM! All I remember is hearing a really freaking loud humming noise in my ears. I couldn’t move. I was thinking, what in the …. ? Suddenly it hit me: I’m being electrocuted. I tried to pull back but I was paralyzed. I tried to yell, to scream, to tell someone I was being electrocuted, but I couldn’t seem to form the words. Later I’m told I was in fact screaming involuntarily at this time, so loud they could hear me clearly at the top of the cliff. My family thought I had stepped on a nail and was “being a bitch about it”, so no one did anything. I figure that’s why it took over ten seconds for the father to realize what was going on and kill the power. This is where my memory ends for a time, as I am unconscious at this point. But I’m told that when the power was killed, I was blown backwards just like in the movies. I smashed into a rock retaining wall, bounced off it, landed on the very hard, packed dirt main yard, and proceeded to have a seizure. It’s apparently at this point that, in traditional Paradise Cove fashion, someone yelled out, “Let’s pour some water on him!” Instead, everyone, including the staff, gathered around and apparently just watched me seize. Eventually, when I stopped, they picked me up and carried me into a nearby fale and covered me with a blanket. And that’s when I woke up. After several hours they finally took me to the hospital. Every muscle in my body felt sore to the point of being pulled, and I almost had to crawl to get up the cliff. When I got to the hospital, the doctor (who was Chinese) checked me out and then took some x-rays. He tried to explain the results to me, but he only spoke Chinese and a little Samoan. The “nurse” from the program they sent with me spoke Samoan and a little English, and so he would tell her and then she would tell me. It turned out that somewhere in the spasming as I was being electrocuted, hitting the rock retaining wall, and then the seizures, one of my vertebrae had cracked in half, and then slipped up behind another vertebrae. They couldn’t believe I wasn’t paralyzed. They wanted to do surgery right away, but I refused. I wasn’t about to let a third-world doctor operate on me in an open-air hospital. No siree. I don’t know what the program told my parents, but the next day we hit one of our all-time lows in our relationship. They sent me a fax, which was a big deal in a place where mail took two weeks one way. I still remember this fax. To this day if I close my eyes I can see it clear as day. It was in my dad’s handwriting. The first line read, exactly, “Dear Bill, heard you had a ‘SHOCKING’ experience yesterday. Ha ha ha!” and then next to that he had drawn a little picture of what I presumed was me, with my skeleton showing inside my body Return Of The Jedi style, with little lightning bolts coming out me. I quit writing them letters for a time. To this day I have never spoken to my family about it. I just don’t think I can without saying something I’ll regret, since we are in a much better place now. But even now writing this I’m getting heartburn just thinking about it and I feel all lightheaded like I’m going to pass out. My father isn’t like that. What could the program have possibly told him to make him that flip about a situation that very truly almost ended in me being either dead or paralyzed? I guess we’ll never know, since I never plan on bringing it up. But anyway, that’s the story of how I got electrocuted, and this was Notes From Tha Cove.

Notes From Tha Cove 2 – Birthday Beatdown

21 April 2012 by , No Comments

By Bill Boyles

This is a hard one for me to tell because in this one, I get my ass kicked and kicked good. It’s somewhat embarrassing and the only two points I can offer in my defense are that getting your ass kicked on your birthday was pretty common at Paradise Cove, and I did not know this at the time so it came as a complete surprise. I didn’t even know that my family knew it was my birthday, but my case manager must have let it slip. So I blame her, one more offense in a long list. But I digress…back to the story. At Paradise Cove, our lives as Lower Levels and to some extent as Upper Levels were ruled by a daily schedule that varied little except on weekends and subdivided down to the quarter hour. This schedule was adhered to with pedantic efficiency by the staff. One hour of every day was designated “Water Sports Period”, in which we were compelled to go swimming in the ocean, whether or not we wanted to. Wait a minute, you may be saying. Why wouldn’t you boys want to swim and snorkel in the beautiful waters of the South Pacific? Well, for several reasons. The first reason was that the water was so freaking cold you would think you were swimming in the Bering Sea, not the South Pacific. The second was that getting that seawater on yourself was asking for a fungal infection called sunspots, and the only way Paradise Cove had to treat sunspots was to burn the affected areas off yourself with a 10-15% acid solution. Why doesn’t you as the reader take a moment to consider what THAT felt like. Yes, exactly. Pretty damn bad. The third reason not to go swimming was that the coral reef was mostly dead and had been taken over by tons of a kind of starfish called Crown-of-Thorns starfish. I learned all about them when I first got to the program. One day my first week I almost stepped on one barefooted. I was stopped from stepping on it by a boy named Steve C. (he figures in later in the story too, as well as another story coming later. As a side note, he is dead now at his own hands, another victim of Paradise Cove.) Steve explained to me that they were poisonous. As the nearest hospital was over an hour away, stepping on one was risking your life.

A Crown-ofThorns Starfish

The last, and most compelling, reason not to go swimming was that every sink on the beach, as well as the showers discharged untreated into the water. And even worse, the septic tanks discharged into the water, too. So we were swimming in a soup (sometimes literally, since the kitchen sinks are included) of absolute nasty vileness. I shudder to this day thinking of it. I mean that literally. I just did as I wrote that. So those were the extremely valid reasons not to go into the water. There were only two reasons anyone would even want to: because it was a rare chance to talk amongst ourselves without getting overheard or in trouble, and because we would try to catch fish which we would then try to get away with eating (technically against the rules). We would eat them raw, and by raw, I mean generally still alive as we bit into them. That should tell you something about the nutritional situation at Paradise Cove. What normal teenager acts like that at the beach? None I’ve ever seen. So, enough backdrop. Back to the story. We’re getting there, I swear. So my family was at Water Sports Period. It was 15th birthday, although I didn’t remember since the exact date was utterly unimportant in the program. I was swimming around in a particularly deep part of the area, minding my own business, when all of a sudden I got snatched by the ankle and dragged with no warning down under water. I didn’t even have a chance to grab a breath. That’s when the blows started raining down. Someone was kicking me in the head, and my head was bouncing off this big outcrop of coral over and over again. Since being in Paradise Cove, I had witnessed at least 24 acts of brutal violence (that’s a conservative number- I arrive at it by taking the roughly 24 weeks I had been in Paradise Cove and saying one act of violence a week, which is so low for PC as to be laughable.) That was my mind frame, and I’m not ashamed to tell you that with all that random violence floating around in my head, I was afraid I was the victim of that week’s act. There was a rumor going around that if a boy died in the program, the whole place would be shut down and everyone would go home. I thought they were trying to make me that boy. I was starting to run out of air. I was seeing black spots and seconds from breathing in a big lungful of seawater when they finally let off. I surfaced, took in a huge breath of air, and let loose with every expletive I knew. That’s when they all started saying happy birthday. They were all laughing like it was hysterical. I understandably found it someone less funny. In fact, I was incredibly pissed off. I could have snitched and gotten them all in trouble. I could have told them off. But as the saying goes, snitches get stitches, and besides I just wasn’t a snitch in my heart. I also didn’t want to seem like a bitch, so I put on a smile and faked a laugh and acted like I had just been on the receiving end of a particularly witty prank. I also pondered the irony of my family remembering my birthday when I hadn’t, but using that knowledge for evil. I received another birthday beating at Paradise Cove, but it wasn’t nearly as judicious or memorable. I also witnessed and participated in many, many birthday beatings, but out of all of them, only one stands out as memorable. Only one was worse than that one I went through. But it happened to someone else. Maybe I’ll change the name and tell the story eventually, but at least for now it’s someone else’s story to tell. That’s the story of my birthday beatdown, and this was Notes From Tha Cove.

Notes From Tha Cove 3 – Typhoon Tetanus

21 April 2012 by , No Comments

Tropical Cyclone Cora as it approached Tonga

By Bill Boyles

This is going to be a longer one, because it’s two stories in one: The story of a hurricane hitting Paradise Cove, and the story of how that hurricane gave me tetanus. The first thing you don’t need to know but I’m going to tell you anyway about this story is that I’m from Florida, and still live there. And in Florida, we get hurricanes. A lot of hurricanes. But in Samoa, the word is “cyclones” not hurricanes. So I’m going to use that word for the rest of the story. For all intents and purposes, they are the same damn thing, though.  In Samoa, unlike Florida and the rest of the states, cyclone season is from November to May (Samoa is south of the equator so the seasons are exactly reversed.) As I know this occurred somewhat before I got out of Paradise Cove in August of 1999, and since only one typhoon hit Samoa in the 1998-1999 season, I feel confident telling you that it was Tropical Cyclone Cora (not that I knew that then). It approached Samoa sometime around Dec.28. Anyway, as the storm approached, the staff began to batten down the hatches, but for some inexplicable reason, despite the fact that we lived on a beach literally 10 feet above sea level and 25 linear feet from the edge of the ocean, we weren’t evacuated. I’ve mentioned before that in our huts or fales, our “windows” were just holes in the wall with chicken wire nailed over them. Well, it turns out in the tropics it rains a lot (duh!) and it also turns out chicken wire doesn’t stop rain from entering very well (duh duh!). So the clever, clever staff devised a system of tarps, just plain old blue (some were brown) tarps like from Home Depot, nailed to the tops of windows and rolled up and tied with a strap to stay rolled up. These tarps could be untied and unrolled during inclement weather. Many families found scraps of wood to attach to the lower edge of the tarp both to make it easier to roll up and let down, but also to help keep it in place during wind; however, not all tarps had these wooden pieces. Now, a cyclone has wind. A lot of wind. In fact, it’s just a big ball of wind and rain. So the tarps were going to come in handy, but with all that wind, even the ones with wood strips were going to get blown around so bad they were going to get torn off. So instead of evacuating us, the staff (and some boys shanghaied into service) spent all day nailing down the tarps on all the buildings, even on common area fales like the dining room and kitchen, using new strips of wood to keep the tarps from ripping free of the nails in the wind. Thus battened down, we went about our lives on the dismal schedule, just waiting for the storm to hit. I think of all the kids there, those of us from Florida were in the worst position. We all knew exactly what was coming and exactly how bad we didn’t want to be that close to the ocean, trying to ride it out in those flimsy huts. The only thing we didn’t know was when the hurricane was coming and how bad it was going to be. Despite the fact that as Family Leader (a position for a Level 3 that made him in charge of the family for some things- they were big on rank and hierarchy at Paradise Cove) I was entitled to sleep in my family’s fale, a more prestigious sleeping position, I had continued to sleep in the dining room, which along with several other buildings was elevated by an addition 5 feet or so and further back from the water by another 20 feet or so. That decision really paid off for me that night, because that night was when the cyclone hit. The staff had brought down a few lamps, anticipating the power would go out, and go out it did. That was the first night in over a year that I slept with the lights off, and the only night I wished they were on. I couldn’t sleep that night. The wind was howling outside like a living thing, like a demon, like a banshee I felt like it wanted me personally and was screaming my name with rage. I was familiar with the sound, being from Florida, but still it scared even me. I have no idea how the kids from other places coped. Maybe better, asleep in blissful ignorance It’s worth noting at this point that the dining fale where I slept was somewhat more flimsily designed than the other fales, having mostly completely open sides without chick wire. It also had an open side with no door. I could hear the wood of it groaning as it strained against the wind. I knew the roof was just hanging on. My best friend Jamey slept in the hut, too (which is why I hadn’t moved.) I had inherited an air mattress from another boy who had left, and as we crawled underneath it. As we huddled together under it, we could hear the debris bouncing off the tarps that were our only protection. I don’t know to this day what he did, but I spent all night praying to a God I was sure had abandoned me to my fate long before. The praying must have worked, Maybe I wasn’t the only one doing it,  Everyone made it, although trees were down, debris was strewn everywhere, and rocks had even been dislodged from the cliffs above. I learned how my decision to sleep in the dining room had paid off: the storm surge generated by the storm had made the ocean rise over 12 feet, overtopping the cliff the row of lower family fales sat on. The water had even washed into the fales. The 5 extra feet that of height the communal buildings had spared me from that at least. We shook ourselves off and went back on schedule as the staff and gang-pressed kids began removing the wood strips holding the tarps on. Eventually, my family went to water sports. We were entitled to a shower after swimming to ward off sunspots, and my family began showering. I as the family leader didn’t need to be watched everywhere I went, and I quickly ran to our fale, within feet of the showers, to put my mask and snorkel away. Fales in Paradise Cove had corrugated tin roofs with internal pasteboard ceilings, so there was a hollow space in the rafters. The fales had open soffits, which is where many of us stored our water sports gear. I grabbed hold of a rafter and pulled myself up in a chin-up, putting my mask far back where it was unlikely to get stolen by someone else. Then I let go and dropped down. I landed hard, my foot stinging, but all I had on was a very flimsy set of cheap foam sandals, worn almost through, and I had landed one of the discarded strips of wood from the tarps, so it wasn’t that surprising. I got the surprise when I tried to walk. After a few steps I realized something was stuck to my sandal. I looked down, and it was the piece of wood. I lifted my foot to shake it off, and that’s when I realized it was stuck to my foot. I figured there was a nail sticking out stuck in my sandal, so I stepped on the piece of wood with my other foot and tried to pull my first foot free. I felt as curios pressure in my foot. That’s when I realized the nail was stuck in my foot and not my sandal. Why didn’t I notice a nail stuck in my foot right away? There’s a good answer to that question. We were often forced to go without sandals because our old pair would wear out and the program simply wouldn’t provide new ones for months. We also did exercises barefoot, played volleyball barefoot, and walked on the coral of the reef barefoot during Water Sports. Because of all these things, the skin on the bottom of our feet grew thick and calloused, nearly impervious to pain or puncture, at least by things that weren’t a freaking nail. So, I had a nail in my foot. I sat down and tried to pull the board off and the nail out, and to my surprise I couldn’t. Eventually I had to apply all my effort. There was a feeling of incredible pressure, followed by an audible popping sound, and suddenly the nail was free, but my foot was suddenly extremely sore. I knew who had taken the wood off our fale- I had assigned him the task, after all- and now I vented my anger. “Michael! I’m going to kill you, you -!” I won’t repeat all the names I called him, but they were as choice as only a teenaged boy living in a reenactment of Lord of the Flies could make them. I limped toward the showers. Once in, I scrubbed the nail hole as well as I could, but because of the calluses on my foot, it was just a small puncture wound. It wasn’t even open. That night, during Meds time right before bed, I went to the “nurse” and told her what had happened. She boiled a pot of salt water (I think actual ocean water!) and had me put my foot in while it was super hot. Then she gave me some Panadol, which is the Australian or New Zealand version of Tylenol. I went to bed. The next morning, it was clear the remedies hadn’t worked, and I found myself in a whole new world of hurt. My foot was hugely swollen and a nice, angry red color. It was so painful I couldn’t walk on it, and I was not then nor am I now a bitch about these things. I went to the “nurse” showed her my foot, and told her to do something about it. She offered me Panadeine, which as you may have guess is Panadol with Codeine. I took it, because hey, it was Codeine and my life sucked. Then I told her I needed antibiotics and to go to the hospital. In her broken English she refused. As the day went on I could see red lines start to form and begin snaking their way up my leg right where my veins were. I knew my life was possibly hanging in the balance. Luckily, Fate was on my side that day, because that day happened to be the day of one of my phone calls to my parents that I got every month or two. This meant I would see my case manager and go into town. My case manager at this time was a man named Duane Lee, who was also the Director of all Paradise Cove. I was using the very piece of wood that did me in as a crutch at this point. When Duane came down to the beach to pick me up, he saw the crutch and asked right away what had happened. I told him, then showed him what was going on. He took me into to town and had me call my parents, then took me straight to the hospital. He may have saved my life. Of course, his negligence about the hurricane in the first place was what had put me in that position, so I didn’t then nor do I now feel particularly grateful. The doctor, after looking and listening, ordered an immediate x-ray. When  he looked at it, he said, and I literally quote, “Holy shit!” The nail had gone over an inch into my foot, deep into the bone, and left a clearly-visible pocket there. They told me the infection was most likely tetanus, and gave me a tetanus shot. The best part was, they admitted me for three days! I bet that sounds crappy to you, but to me it was awesome. I should note I was at the brand new hospital they had just built, no more third-world, open air crap holes. I got hospital food (which was actually a vast improvement), pain medicine, and I even had a TV and I could watch it! I hadn’t watched TV in over a year, nor ordered what food I wanted. But soon enough the IV antibiotics healed me up, and after three days I had to say goodbye to luxury and return to my awful life in that nasty gulag. That’s the story of Typhoon Tetanus, and this was Notes From Tha Cove.

Notes From Tha Cove 4 – The Night of a Thousand Roaches

22 April 2012 by , No Comments

Bill Boyles

Roaches!

I am smiling as I write this because I just know this one is going to creep some of you out bad. I don’t escape death or anything in this one, but I do suffer a fate some would call worse than death. This story takes place, as I infer from the details I remember, sometime in late 1998, or possibly early 1999. But I would bet on 1998. I was a Level 3, and as I have explained in a previous episode, I was sleeping in the dining fale. The dining fale was next to the kitchen. On the side of the kitchen, between it and the dining fale, were several sinks that were used for washing plates off. Behind the fales, in the space between them, was the trash pile. Full trash bags were kept here until being removed several times a week for burning. In between, the bags piled up. There was also a slops bucket, where we had to dump extra food off our plates (In contrast to most WWASP programs, you did not have to finish all your food or a percentage of it every day. All you had to do was eat SOMETHING every day.) When the slops bucket was full, it was taken “up the hill” and given to the local villagers’ pigs. The thing is that in between being taken away, the trash pile and slops bucket were a stinking, fetid mess of nastiness rotting in the hot tropical sun. They attracted flies. Flies like you have never seen before. Flies like a Biblical plague. So I was sleeping within feet of this affront to public sanitation every night. The night in question was like any other. I grabbed my bedroll at 8:00 and headed to the dining fale, where I unfurled it in my customary spot, next to my best friend Jamey. It was for Samoa a cool evening, with high humidity and a brisk breeze. I spent my final half an hour before lights out doing God knows what, but most likely chatting with Jamey or writing a letter to my parents or something. Finally, it was 8:30, and time for Lights Out. Sometime before I fell asleep, rain began to threaten, and an Upper Level came around and let the tarps down. The last thing I remember before falling alseep was the gentle (to someone used to it) sound of the rain on the corrugated tin roof as I gradually drifted off. The first thing I remember upon waking up was that something had woken me up, a tickling around my nose and lips. I opened my eyes, and something was over them. I moved, and it moved. I have absolutely no shame in telling you that I screamed like a little girl, and grabbed for the thing. It was a cockroach, a big old sucker of a cockroach as only the tropics can grow them. I ripped it off my face, and that’s when I realized it wasn’t the thing tickling me. That was another cockroach sitting over and slightly INSIDE my open mouth. I ripped that one off, and THAT was when I realized I was literally (and I mean absolutely literally in the exact sense of the word) covered from head to toe in cockroaches. I did the only thing I could do: I freaked out and started thrashing around. Somewhere in this process, my distress had started to wake up the other boys in the fale. One by one, they too screamed like little girls and freaked out as they began dislodging the roaches. We were all flailing wildly around, ripping them off, crushing them in our hands, and throwing them away from us. We were swatting them with our sandals. We were swatting them with our bare hands. We were stepping on them with our bare feet. We were rolling back and forth, smashing them underneath our bodies and into our beds. After a few minutes, the carnage was over, and someone turned on the lights, completely against the rules. When a father came over to check on why the light was on, he saw all the roaches and left us alone, telling us to clean up and turn off the lights. We grabbed the brooms that were kept in the hut for sweeping it out and started shaking out the roaches from our sheets and blankets. We swept them all into a big pile. And I mean a BIG pile, in my memory at least it was a couple feet across and maybe a foot high. I think maybe a thousand is a bit overblown, but I would swear on my mother that hundreds wasn’t overblown in the slightest. Consider this fairly conservative estimate: 25 boys, each with 25 roaches on him. That’s 625 roaches. That’s a LOT of roaches. We cleaned up the roaches, turned the lights off, and went back to bed, because that was life at Paradise Cove: crappy, awful things happened, and as soon as they were over you just acted like it never happened. For those interested, the explanation we came up with for what happened was that the trash pile and slops bucket were particularly nasty that night, and when it started to rain, the roaches came into the fale, because it turns out humans aren’t the only things that don’t like to get wet. That was the most plausible thing we could come up with, and to this day, I’ve never heard a better one. That’s the story of The Night of a Thousand Roaches, and this was Notes From Tha Cove.

Notes From Tha Cove 5 – Party in Pago Pago, From P.C. to P/C.

22 April 2012 by , No Comments

By Bill Boyles

So…clearly I am not telling these stories chronologically. This one skips all the way to the end of my time at Paradise Cove (although I still had 8 months left in WWASP.) I’m going to do this for two reasons: firstly, it’s a badass story, and secondly, there is a great picture of me that goes with this story that I want to go ahead and post up. This story takes place starting on August 3rd, 1999. I was a Level 5 (out of 6) and the on the 2nd I had just been informed I was to leave P.C. on the 4th headed for P/C, or the Parent/Child Seminar 1. The whole subject of WWASP seminars needs its own very long story to explain the concept fully, but suffice it to say they were two to three day events that involved brainwashing, digging up painful emotions and memories, lots of getting ripped on by peers, lots of ripping on peers, being forced to perform strange acts (like one time they made me dress up like a BUTTERFLY and dance around to some Madonna song or something), and never-ending indoctrination to the set of program-specific jargon and ideas, such as the idea that your mind creates whatever you want, and so the things that happen to you, even bad things, you de facto WANTED to happen to you (I remember hearing a girl in a seminar one time get told she WANTED to be raped by her father…pretty sick stuff.) And every kid in every WWASP program was subjected to this two to three days every month to two months for their entire stay. I personally did Discovery, Focus, Accountability four times, and Keys to Success I believe 6 times. Then I did Parent/Child 1 and 2.

An overview of the TASKS seminars

And that doesn’t count staffing, where Upper Levels went back through a seminar both to provide the ripping and to perform functions like watching the kids during breaks, grading their homework, and running the sound equipment. P/C, as you may have guessed, was a seminar you took with your parents. One part of its design was to reacquaint kids with their parents. Case in point, I had been in the program 22 months at this point. My parents had come one time for 3 days to visit, and I had had maybe six 10-minute phone calls, in other words, one hour of talking to them. I had changed because of what had been done to me, and my parents and I were almost complete strangers to each other. The other point of P/C was to start the process of drafting something WWASP called a “Home Contract.” It was a codified set of rules you would have to agree to follow before you were allowed home. There were consequences for breaking the rules up to and including being sent back to the program. If you didn’t want to agree to your Home Contract, you could wait til you were 18 and opt for your Exit Contract, which was (and still is!) where your parents essentially abandoned you to your fate. A typical exit contract in Paradise Cove was a flight to LAX, two to three nights in a cheap hotel, and $50-$100, along with the pronouncement that you were no longer part of the family unit, so you were requested never to call, write, or otherwise contact your family ever again. I know many kids who took that deal. Imagine trading your family, FOREVER, just to get out of the program because that’s how bad it was. But I digress…back to the story. I was leaving the next day. I was so freaking excited I could barely stand it. There was quite a few of us going,  I think 3 or 4 (I can’t remember which…I remember 3 people but I have this feeling like I’m forgetting somebody or somebodies…there may have been 5 of us), which was a lot. Somehow the idea of celebratory rugby game came up, so we went over to Fagatele (Fun-ga-tel-lay) Beach from Sinalele Beach to play. It was staff vs. Jr. staff. Have I mentioned the Samoans are a humongous people? I mean really just gargantuan. The Rock is Samoan, and he would be of an unremarkable size walking around there. So we’re playing RUGBY against these huge guys. But after a few minutes, we were winning. That’s when the game got pretty competitive. Right towards the end, I was running, following the play, and caught a completely unnecessary elbow right in the face from one of the staff. I went down like a ton of bricks and landed face first in the sand. That’s when someone (staff member) put their foot on the back of my head and ground my face in the sand. I got up, shook it off, and kept playing. But that becomes important later, so remember it. We did some other stuff that day and night that were like fun, celebratory things, but I won’t bore you with that. The point is, the next day, we got taken to the airport and put on a flight.

Fagali'l Airport

Now it was customary to give us a little cash so we had some money for the trip, since as upper levels we weren’t escorted by staff the whole way. Instead, we were all responsible for each other. Someone (I’m not saying it was me….I’m not saying it wasn’t either) had managed to slip unnoticed into the duty-free shop and purchase a bottle of Beefeater Gin. Before we got on the flight, we found a quiet corner and passed the bottle around, quickly draining it. Then we boarded. We flew from Western Samoa to Pago Pago (pon-go pon-go), in American Samoa. And that’s where we were met by Lafi, quite possibly the biggest scumbag in all of Samoa.

Heeeeerrrrrrrreeeeee's LAFI!

Almost every boy at Paradise Cove knew Lafi. Most boys flew into Pago Pago on their way in, and due to the long flight and the vagaries of time changes, got into the airport very late. That meant an overnight layover in American Samoa, and that’s where Lafi came in. On my way in (the story of which I may tell later), there were six of us, and Lafi didn’t have enough beds at his house. Since the beds were just mattresses and box springs sitting on the ground, he split them up. I lost the rock, paper, scissors  and ended up having to sleep on a box spring. Let me tell you how THAT feels…but I’m getting off topic. Lafi picked us up at the airport, a reverse of my past experience. Little did Lafi know this was his last hurrah working for the program. You see, I was in a group of kids that had all been in Paradise Cove a long time, and so we were all masters among masters at manipulating. Even though he was skeezy as hell, poor Lafi was in essence a simpleton. And so, before he knew it, Lafi was driving us to a liquor store and buying us a bottle of booze along with a pack of smokes. That was my first cigarette ever. It was a GPC Red, and I vividly remember it to this day. The other boys had to teach me how to smoke. The cigarette made my head spin and I almost threw up. But I didn’t. Thanks guys, really appreciate that. Lafi  might have still weaseled his job back after that, but we weren’t done with him. The next thing, we decided, was to go to a movie. But when we got to the movie theater, the only thing playing was Lake Placid. But Lake Placid was an R-rated movie, which was as big a no-no as booze and squares. No problem. Not only did we get Lafi to allow is to go, somehow we got him to buy the tickets! It was a pretty crappy movie, but I was buzzed so I didn’t mind. After the movie, when we back to the airport, and Lafi bought us all burgers and fries at the little bar and grill there. I’ll never forget that place either. It had this huge curving wall on side that was a huge mural…funny what details you remember. Anyways, we brought up to Lafi that burgers and fries tasted really good with beer, so he bought us a round. And then another round. And another. And another. I have no idea how much I drank that night, I do remember that at Pago Pago Airport, they don’t have a jetway. Instead, they wheel up this flight of stairs and you climb them to get in. It’s a steep flight of stairs, and 747s are tall airplanes. I almost didn’t make it. I literally almost fell off the side of the stairs I was so drunk. The last thing I remember is one of the guys in the group vomiting into those little airsick bags as the plane climbed for altitude. Luckily I was sitting a few rows in front of him. I passed out so bad that when I woke up, as the plane landed in Hawaii, you could see the pattern lines of the fabric of the seat in front of me imprinted on my face. That was an epic hangover. We all had them. We were so hungover in Hawaii we could barely claim our luggage. We had to concentrate just to check in to our next flight, a connecting flight to Los Angeles . And we were so hungover 8 hours later or so in LAX we had to concentrate just to check in to our next flight, a connecting flight to Las Vegas. That’s why no one noticed when one of us, who will remain nameless, ran away. He apparently was from L.A., so he made a phone call and split. No one even noticed he was gone until we got Las Vegas. That was a gigantic, collective, OH SHIT moment. We all knew we were going to pay for that one. When I walked off the jetway in Las Vegas, my folks were waiting for me. They took this picture:

Bill Boyles at Maclaran International Airport, 08/05/99

Study it for a moment. That strange color of my skin is a suntan as only two years shirtless in the sun with no sunblock ever can create, combined with jaundice from malnutrition. You can also see the two black eyes I have from that “friendly” game of rugby. Also, look close at my eyes….yes, I have pinkeye in both eyes in that picture. My parents took me to a walk-in clinic in St. George, Utah (where the seminar was) and the doctor told me it was one of the worse cases he had ever seen. I’m carrying almost everything I own.  Since everything was in shorty supply, and you could just have your parents buy anything you needed when you got to Utah, it was customary in Paradise Cove to give your stuff away to the other boys when you left. My checked “bag” was a pillowcase with some sentimental mementos in it. Nothing else. I have lost all that stuff over the years through break-ups and a divorce mostly, and it makes me so sad. The two books I’m holding are what we called “signing books” in Paradise Cove. They fulfilled the function of yearbooks in ordinary schools. When someone left, they would sign your book and you theirs. What makes me sad is I had signatures in there from Teague Farnsworth, Nic Gustafson, Mark Davis, and Steve Clark, all dead now at their own hands, but in my opinion killed by the Cove. Anyway, the point of the picture is this: my PARENTS took this picture. How do you look at your son, looking like this, and three days later hand right back over to the same people and tell them, “Sure! More program is exactly what he needs?”You see, after P/C, I headed off to Casa By The Sea. I was scheduled for a four month stay. However, after about a month the shit hit the fan over our little party in Pago Pago. I got dropped and it took me seven more months to get out of there, so my four month stay turned to eight. Lafi got canned too. But it was all totally worth it. To my knowledge no P/C group from Paradise Cove or anywhere else has even gone off the reservation like that. It makes me proud. It’s truly a worthy accomplishment. That the story of the party in Pago Pago on the way from P.C. To P/C, and this was Notes From Tha Cove.

Notes From Tha Cove 6 – Welcome to the Cove, Kid

22 April 2012 by , 2 Comments

By Bill Boyles

I’m going to start this one off with a warning: this one might be a little difficult to read, even by the standards of this blog. In fact, I will describe in this story the most brutal act of violence I have ever witnessed in my life, a life that has at times been filled with violence. So you’ve been warned. This NFTC is going to take some back story, but stay with me. The first thing you need to know about Paradise Cove for this story is that the boys of each beach were divided into groups of 15-25 boys each and labeled “families.” Each family had its own fale, or hut, and its own set of staff that were in charge of it. These staff were called “fathers”, and rarely switched from one family to another. Families did everything together, and rarely did anything with other families. In fact, for a lower level to even speak to someone from another family, he had to ask his father, then go the other family’s father and ask him too. Breaking this rule was serious. So it was rare for anyone to interact at all with anyone from a different family, except on holidays and such. The attitude at Paradise Cove can be summed up as “family first.” The families competed often on a wide range of things, from competitions to make up the funniest headcounts, to volleyball games, to contests to see who could do the best work project or who had the best looking hut, etc. This had become fully developed into a gang-like mentality. If one person in your family had a problem, everyone did. I was ironically in a family called Peace (you’ll get it later), and at the start of this story a kid nicknamed, appropriately, Shorty had arrived a short time before. Shorty was covered in tattoos that were mostly pretty clearly jailhouse tats and that were even more clearly gang-related. Shorty had spent a lot of time in lockup. He was violent. And he knew a lot of tricks for making shanks and such. For those who don’t know, shanks are improvised knives used for stabbing or cutting. Well, after a short time, Shorty began to beef with a kid in another family who had been affiliated with another gang, and that meant both families began to get involved. A showdown was clearly in the making. During this time, my family had a work project on a Saturday morning. We decided to put in a garden on the side of our fale. My best friend and I went to go get soil for the garden. We dug it up from the side of the hill with coconut shells and placed it into empty 80lb rice bags, then carried it back to the garden and dumped it in. While we were digging one time, we somehow found several huge nails. These things were probably 8 inches long and as thick as a cigarette. I mean, spikes is probably a better word., but the had heads and seemed proportional to a nail scaled up to that length. Being Level 3′s, we weren’t being watched, so we managed to secrete these nails where we could grab them easily later. And that’s just what we did, managing to hide them in our hut. I’m not even sure why, to be honest, but in Paradise Cove any time you found anything that might have the slightest utility later on, you kept it. As things escalated between Shorty and this other kid, the whole family began to get involved. We started stockpiling weapons, starting with a stash of fistpacks we made out of coral. If you don’t know what a fistpack is, it’s a small, hard cylinder you hold in your fist so that when you punch someone, it causes more damage.  We also threw some bars of soap and handfuls of rock into socks. And then we began making shanks. The whole family got in on it. I remember a Group Therapy period, where the father turned a blind eye, and so we spent the entire hour sharpening up toothbrushes on the bare concrete spots on the floor, and that’s when I remembered the nails. We told Shorty about them and he eagerly took them. We sharpened them up too and then Shorty made handles by wrapping the top portion of the nails with a kind of rope it was common to make in Paradise Cove out of strips of our lavalavas or old shirts, braided together.

 

He put them away and I didn’t see them again. We fast forward to some time later, maybe a month or more. I was headed to bed. I was sleeping in the school fale at this time, along with around 60 other kids. The night was like any other. There was a new boy. I had seen him arrive earlier. He had been placed in the family we were feuding with. We went through the typical new boy ritual, part of which is singing a song (more in another NFTC on this ritual). He sang, and Reflections was over and it was time to go to sleep. I laid down and closed my eyes and quickly fell asleep despite the fact that they left some of the lights on every night. In fact, later on those lights being on were how I clearly witnessed one of the most blood chilling things I have ever seen. I woke up abruptly. At first I couldn’t tell what was going on. Nightmares were a common occurrence; it wasn’t all that odd for a boy to be crying out or thrashing at night, so I was more annoyed than concerned as I sat up. But when I sat up, that’s when I saw what was going. Two boys were on top of another boy who was laying on the ground. He was the one screaming, and all three of them were flailing around. At first I thought it was just (JUST!) a fight that was a really one sided fight or maybe someone getting jumped, but as I stared I realized the kid was getting stabbed, over and over and over again. He was screaming for help, but no one was doing anything. Jumping in would mean getting in the same trouble as the rest of them. We all waited for the staff to appear, but they didn’t. The stabbing and screaming went on and on. In my memory, it goes on for what seems like hours. In all reality it probably lasted 2-3 minutes, but for anyone who has not witnessed something like this, that is a lifetime. These kinds of things are usually over in seconds. I started to wonder where the staff were, and even considered calling out for them, but  I didn’t want to seem like a snitch, so I stayed silent, and for that I still feel guilty to this day. Eventually the staff showed up and broke up the fight. They had to drag the two boys kicking and screaming off the other boy. That’s when I saw that one of the boys was Shorty. The other was aa boy who was also affiliated with his gang (or maybe an allied gang…the gang thing always confused me in Paradise Cove.) The kid who had been stabbed was the new kid. I didn’t know his name then, and I don’t know it now. But he was screaming and sobbing and rolling around on the ground. He was bleeding EVERYWHERE. The took him off, hopefully to the hospital, and we were told to go back to sleep. It’s worth noting that you got in trouble after Lights Out if you even had your eyes open. It was a Category 2 offense for Non-Verbal Communication. So I closed my eyes and went back to sleep. The next day, I felt even guiltier (and still do) when I found out the shanks used had been the two nails my friend and I had found and given to Shorty. The rumor mill (which was pretty accurate in Samoa- we loved us some juicy gossip!) said that the kid had 27 stab wounds, and he had gotten them because he looked at Shorty the wrong way as our family passed his family. He lived, and I can only assume most of the wounds either bounced off his ribs, didn’t go that deep, or hit him in the arms and legs. It’s strange. I never knew that kid at all, never learned his name, and yet he is one of the people I think about the most from Paradise Cove. The memory comes to me often as I lay in my bed at night, and I close my eyes and imagine what getting stabbed with those huge freaking nails must have felt like. The pain, the fear…on your very first day, for no reason you know. I should have done something, but I didn’t, and I have to live with that. But, in case this unnamed boy ever reads this (you definitely know who you are), I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize. Even though I didn’t know you, you deserved better as a human being. I’m sorry. I hope you healed up physically, and I hope you have found peace mentally. I know the mental wounds are the hardest to heal. That was Welcome to the Cove, Kid; and this was Notes From Tha Cove.

Notes From Tha Cove 7 – Curiosity Didn’t Kill This Cat

12 May 2012 by , No Comments

By Bill Boyles

So I’m just going to warn you from the start, a cat dies in this one. And it’s not pretty. So if that’s going to bother you, please stop reading. I didn’t kill the cat, there was nothing I could have done, and the mores about animals are different in Samoa. I don’t want to hear it, so don’t waste your time emailing me or whatever. So I can’t really date this one, but it if you put my feet to the fire I would guess late in 1998, maybe early in 1999. It was after they gave us the new uniforms, I can remember that. I was living on Sinalele Beach. My family had taken in this little kitten. It was very very young. It came from the village above the beach, but it had wandered down either because it was an orphan or because it had been driven off by its family. It only had three legs, you see. One back leg was totally mangled below its knee, and it ended in a stump. I have no idea how that happened, but I will say that both the staff and the villagers often found it funny to throw puppies, cats, and kittens off the cliff. Why, I do not know. But that is one way the cat could have ended up down on the beach. Anyway, whatever reason the cat was down on the beach, it was, and my family had taken it in as a sort of pet or mascot. We would all chip in a little of our meals for it. We pet it and loved it. We named it “Tripod”, for obvious reasons. I don’t know how long we had him, but it was definitely long enough for us to get attached. I’m not really a cat person, but he was so little and so cute, and I do love animals in general. He wormed his way right into my heart, cold as Paradise Cove had turned it, and I think the rest of my family was the same way. There was just one little problem. We weren’t supposed to make the cats and dogs into pets, and we definitely weren’t supposed to have Tripod at all. And if we got caught, bad things were likely to happen to us. So we kept him a secret as best we could, and we were aided and abetted in our little conspiracy by certain staff members who were kinder, and more lenient and understanding than others. All too soon, however, our secret was revealed. Word came down from above: Tripod had to go. We were fine with it when it was told to us. He was a nice little cat, kitten really, and we wished him well. But then it was explained to us that Tripod had to die. We were close to refusing. The staff pointed out his missing leg, which was looking kind of gnarly and not healing well. We still balked. Finally, we were told flat out we had to do it, or else. Or else in Paradise Cove was never something you wanted, never something you played games with. It sucked for us, and it sucked worst for Tripod, but he was going to have to die and apparently we had to do it. We discussed different ideas for killing him, in order to make it quick and painless. Someone suggested bashing his head in with a big crock, crushing his skull. Someone suggested wringing his neck like a chicken. They weren’t going to give us a knife, so cutting his throat was out. We went on and on. Eventually, we decided that drowning him was best. We decided to tie him up inside a plastic trash bag with several large rocks and throw him in the ocean. He started to freak out when we put him in the bag. We threw the bag into the water and it sank, but after a moment he popped back up, swimming furiously. We realized he had clawed through the trash bag. We didn’t know what to do. Finally we decided to do the same thing again, but use a heavier and much more durable empty rice bag. So someone waded out and got him, but him into the new bag with the rocks, tied it up, and sank it. But again little Tripod popped back up. The will to live was incredibly strong in this little kitten. I was dying. I seriously wanted to cry, but of course that would have been a huge mistake. At this point we were totally stymied as how to do this. Some of the staff and kids began throwing rocks, trying to hit him, but they missed and he just kept paddling around. It was really getting ridiculous. The staff started to get pretty pissed and started yelling at us to kill him. We didn’t know how. Things were getting pretty tense. Then one guy from my family figured out how to do it. He waded out into the water, grabbed little Tripod, and held him underwater by the tail until he died. It was pretty sad, but mostly I grateful I wasn’t the one who had to go do it. I think that would haunt me badly. Just being a small part of this whole crazy story haunts me. But it was him or us, and in Paradise Cove that was never a question, just like it would never have been a question for little Tripod. That’s the story of killing the cat, and this was Notes From Tha Cove

Notes From Tha Cove 8 – Gladiators, We Salute You

29 May 2012 by , No Comments

By Bill Boyles

This one is going to be a little strange. Nothing seriously bad happens to anyone, staff-inflicted or student-inflicted. No real, major or unusual injustices occur. This one is being written more as a way to get you into the mindset of Paradise Cove, hopefully to help you understand the mindless brutality that sets in when human beings, children, are treated like dogs on a daily basis. And we were treated like dogs. It extended all the way from obvious things like getting kicked when we were bad or being told to “Sit” all the way down to much more subtle things: when I arrived at Casa after 22 months in Paradise Cove, the first time I ate a meal I was struck speechless and spellbound by a very simple thing: a plate. I hadn’t even food off a plate in almost 2 years. Instead, food at Paradise Cove was dished out onto plastic cafeteria-style trays, no plates, and sometimes you got silverware and sometimes you didn’t. It may sound simple but eating off a tray, without a plate, sometimes with your hands…it gets in your head in the most subtle yet insidious way. Deep in the back of your brain, it tells you that you are an animal. This message is backed up and reinforced by all the other little things that add up into a torrent of signals that scream into your subconsciousness that YOU ARE AN ANIMAL! Sit, Stand, Speak, Lay Down, Bad Boy, Good Boy…pretty soon you start believing it. And that’s when you start acting like an animal. I don’t think a lot of program people like talking about this subject. I think it’s something they’d like to sweep under the rug. But it needs to be put out there because the stripping away of humanity is how these places, all of them, work…you are reduced to either an animal or a cog in the machine. The complaints of animals are irrelevant, and cogs don’t complain, they just do as they are told. I’m a little off track here but this is a point that bears some elaborating and harping upon so stay with me. When everyone is an animal, a pack mentality sets in. And in dogs that are in a pack, they compete for food, for attention, for pecking order…and so it was in Samoa.

We had a system for dealing with problems. When someone had beef with someone else, we would deal with just like dogs: we would fight. There was only one problem: fighting was against the rules. And so, like dogs misbehaving but fearing to be kicked, we slunk around and tried to hide what we were doing. It worked like this: if you had a problem with someone else, you called them out. They had two choices. They could roll over like a bitch (sorry for the pun but it was too good!), or they could scrap. And if they chose to fight, there was a way in which we went about it so no one was the wiser. No one from the staff, that is. I’m going to shorten this by telling the story I wanted to tell as an illustration as to the method as well. There was a kid named Mike in my family. And for some reason I could never quite put my finger on, I HATED him. I don’t know why, we just never hit it off I guess. Everything he did I found annoying and loathsome to an amazing degree, and I’m sure the feeling was mutual. So one day we got into it over some dumb thing or another, for the life of me I can’t remember what. But I do remember what came next. I called him out, right in front of everybody. I ranked him on levels, seniority, and in popularity (I think I was the family leader at this time), so this was the big dog calling out the young upstart. Hackles raised, tails back, lips drawn, teeth flashing. Grrrrrrrr. That’s when the Gladiator Fight protocol began. People in my family started looking out the window and commenting on the dark clouds coming. There were no dark clouds. It was sunny as hell. But with “rain” coming, we had the perfect excuse to lower the tarps that covered the windows, obscuring the family father’s view of the back and sides of the hut. As family leader it was my job to pick who would go lower the tarps, and of course I offered to go and nominated Mike to help me. We went to the back of the hut and lowered the hut. That’s when it began. There was a more or less unspoken rule that there was to be no hitting above the neck where ugly bruises could lead to even uglier questions. We bumped hands and began.

Now Mike and I had already gone at it once behind the school fale, but he cried foul because I had gone all hockey-player on him and pulled his shirt over his head right at the beginning and then started pummeling his kidneys. He told me later he was pissing blood for a week. So this was the rematch. I didn’t go for the shirt, instead we traded body blows but he quickly figured out that was not going to pay dividends for him. I had been there much longer and I was in great shape. Finally, in desperation, he lower his head and charged me, catching me at the waist. I punished his kidneys a little more, but then lost my balance and we fell backwards. Towards the side of the hut. And out out from behind the hut. Where the shift-leader just happened to be walking.

Ioka (Joker), the shift-leader, was a good guy. He hadn’t always been the shift-leader. He had used to be my family’s father and had recently received the promotion. He liked me. And that’s the only reason Mike and I didn’t get restrained and put into Iso right there on the spot. See, in WWASP programs, there were tons and tons of rules. So many rules, in fact, that a thing was often against more than one rule at a time, sometimes of the same category, or in this case, several different categories. Ioka chose the least bad one he could get away with, a Cat 2, instead of a Cat 3 or Cat 5 that would have dropped both of us and sent us to Isolation.

While I really appreciated that form Ioka, it illustrates one of the problem with the WWASP system: when there are many rules outlawing the same thing with varying degrees of seriousness, ambiguity always follows. And ambiguity is not only unfair, it can be nerve wracking. For instance, I had no idea what consequence I was getting, so I was scared out of my mind, waiting for my sentence, waiting for the axe to drop. I don’t understand how they could expect behaviors to change when no child in a WWASP program has an idea of how their behavior might be taken at any time. I mean, “Non-Verbal Communications”? According to most experts, we are all communicating non-verbally with each other at all times. Who’s to say when that will result in a consequence and when it won’t? WWASP has no consistency, and hence no fairness, and without fairness it cannot truthfully claim to be helping children. I know I’ve ranted quite a bit in this episode, so thank you for staying with me. That was the story of the Gladiator Fights, and this has been Notes From Tha Cove.

Notes From Tha Cove 9 – Snitches Get Stitches

29 May 2012 by , No Comments

By Bill Boyles

This one has been bothering me since…., well, it’s been bothering me since the day I saw it happen. It’s burned into my brain. It’s one of those things you never forget. I’m very conflicted about this one, because this story can be spun two ways, and I see both viewpoints. In one, a very nice kid does something honest and commendable and is unjustly attacked for it. In the other, a program robot breaks the cardinal rule and pays for it dearly in a manner he was well aware could be the consequence of his action. Whatever your viewpoint, the action is the same. I think it’s up to me to tell the story, and to let the reader decide which case is true. So here goes.

To protect this kid, I won’t use his name. We’ll call him “M”. I remember this kid had one of those names with a common nickname, but he went by the full version. I mention this in order to paint a portrait of him, which I think is very important. More informative details (at least to program kids): he had trouble making the upper levels from Level 3 even though he never caused any trouble; he finished high school early and started correspondence college classes and worked as a teacher’s aide; he was a Boy Scout and somehow did his Eagle Scout project there on the beach and became an Eagle Scout; he turned 18 and never even considered his exit plan, but stayed voluntarily, at which point they kinda charity-cased him to the Upper Levels. Does this paint a good picture of him yet? He was a really nice guy for the most part, but a program robot to the core and that caused him to be douchey sometimes.

To understand the rest of this story, you must first understand the way the school system in Paradise Cove (and the rest of the WWASP empire) worked. It wasn’t really so much school as a lack of anything the average American would give the name to. We had no classes, no teachers, in some cases no books, and no impetus to learn. Here’s how it worked: when one arrived, one was given an “Educational Plan,” a piece of paper with the required classes on it and empty spaces for you to write in electives with the approval of the “teacher.” The “teacher” did not actually teach anything, he was basically a glorified room monitor to make sure no one talked or cheated or anything. So one referred to one’s Educational Plan, decided which course one desired to take, and went to the closet at the back of the schoolroom to check out the book, or in some cases the Xeroxed copy of the real book. One then sat and read the book by oneself until one felt one was ready to take the test for the chapter. Then one put the book away, went to the front of the room, and checked out the test from the teacher. The tests were contained in 3-ring binders, one per subject, and the tests were in those little plastic sheet protectors. One took the test on one’s own sheet of paper, usually multiple choice and true/false type questions, and turned it in to the teacher. It was taken to the main office upstairs and graded, then returned to one the next day or day after. If one did not score at least an 80% on the test, one had to redo it until one got at least an 80%. And that was school. Rarely was one’s academic progress monitored. I have done entire half-credit classes in one single day; I spent months sometimes reading books and doing nothing.

There were several school scams going around. The first was that, for certain people, in certain subjects, at certain times, the teacher would give people credit for classes they hadn’t done in exchange for bribes. In the case I am very familiar with, it was Nike T-shirts, at that time like gold in Samoa. The second scam was that people would make two copies of their tests, one to turn in and one to keep and sell. A subject’s worth of tests could get you maybe a bar of soap or even two. (Soap, American, anti-bacterial soap, was currency in Samoa.) The final scam, and the one relevant to this story, was that a lot of the tests had the correct answers marked on them. I tried using them one time, however, and got a worse grade than I could have gotten on my own, so I just did my own thing. But everyone knew about the answers, and no one said anything. It was like this huge, common secret from the staff. It was kind of laughable to be honest. How did they not know? All they had to do was look. It’s a sort of testament to the kind of “education” (or lack thereof) we were getting there that the teacher didn’t even know he was handing the answers out with the tests.

The stage is now set. Miserable educational experience, bumbling useless teacher, widespread cheating. Enter “M” (I’m just going to call him that.) He had graduated early from high school. He was now taking college correspondence classes and he is working as a Teacher’s Aide. He started taking over the teacher’s duties, but the teacher only had two duties: handing out tests and enforcing the rules in the schoolroom. M was not an upper level; he had no business enforcing any rules and quite frankly no one would have taken him seriously if he had tried. So that left handing out tests. Now, maybe for some reason M just flat out wasn’t aware of the answers written in on the tests. Maybe he was and had kept silent before, but now as a Teacher’s Aide felt compelled by the duties of his Office to drop the royal dime. For whatever reason, drop it he did. He snitched like there was no tomorrow. He blew the doors off the whole thing. It all came out, and all the answers went away, which was largely a personal effort of his. He didn’t just nark, he literally went and personally changed the tests so there were no answers anymore. As a result of his revelations, the tests were moved to a back closet in the school room. A table was placed across the doorway, and one had to literally sign in and out the tests. And guess who was assigned to monitor this whole process? Yes, M. He handed the tests out and diligently checked them for signs of cheating before taking them back. Like I said, a little douchey at times.

There was one guiding attitude in Paradise Cove: It was Us vs. Them. There was one cardinal rule in Paradise Cove: No snitching. Ever. For any reason. No excuses. This rule was maintained with a brutal efficiency that would have impressed the Nazis. Snitches got stitches. Period. Always. I don’t know if poor M forgot this, or thought the staff would/could protect him (they couldn’t, and for some reason for snitches they didn’t even try), or if he was delusional and thought that he would skate because he was such a great guy and everyone loved him, or what…but he learned differently.

I remember this one clearly and as I recall I was the closest one to the action. It was late at night (for us), the last school, period, the very end of the period, almost 8:00 PM and almost bedtime. A kid named Shorty (do we all remember Shorty from previous Notes From Tha Cove episodes?) walked up to the testing room, followed by two other kids. As soon as Shorty got close he jumped right up on the table pushed across the door. The staff was sleepy. It had been a quiet day, and it was almost over and time for shift change, their three-day stint over. M was relaxing, thinking he was done for the day. No one would ask for a test so close to the end of the period. When Shorty jumped up on the table, some people didn’t even notice. Those that did, like myself, or poor M, were frozen by surprise. Even the staff didn’t move. And then it came: a viscious, unwarranted attack or Divine Justice made flesh and bone in the form of Shorty’s foot colliding brutally with M’s face in a snap and crunch of bone clearly audible across the room. A spray of blood and M’s head violently whiplashing backwards as he flew out of his chair and smashed into the plywood shelves behind him. Shorty hit the table, having delivered the nastiest dropkick I have ever seen, inside or outside a UFC octagon. The other two kids jumped over the table and crowded into the narrow space where there was barely room for M, much less two attackers and Shorty crowding in as well. They were punching, kicking, stomping, smashing. He was yelling, and then screaming. Blood was flying. Some people stared on in horrified or fascinated silence. A few let up a ragged cheer that the snitch was getting his. I was frozen, both horrified and fascinated. It was an internal struggle; the deeply ingrained Paradise Cove mindset that told me that snitches get theirs vs. that voice inside your head that screams, “No human being deserves THIS!” By the time the staff appeared and got it together, it was far too late for poor M or his face. It was ruined. I know they broke his jaw, he had to have it wired shut and drink his food from a straw for a long time. (I can imagine the only thing worse than program food is drinkable program food!) His nose was clearly broken, his lips split, I think he lost teeth. I heard they broke his cheek, too, and that he needed stitches in several places. I mean, the words “savage beating” don’t even begin to do this justice. I may be missing some of what they did to him. A vague memory of further broken bones is tugging at my mind but won’t fully surface. At any rate, whether you believe he was unfairly attacked or whether you believe he got what he so richly deserved, one thing is certain: M learned a very valuable lesson that day about life, not just life in Paradise Cove, but life in general: bucking social mores can have violent repercussions, so only do it if you’re willing to suffer them and if your cause is worthy of tribulations. That was the story of how snitches get stitches, and this was Notes From Tha Cove.