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The Strangest Study Hall in History

February 19, 2014

Nature hath framed strange fellows in her time.
William Shakespeare

I think we are all fascinated by the offbeat and unusual.  We like to read and discuss anything away from the norm.  Admit it, an occasional step into the weird gives us a chilling excitement, doesn’t it?

But … that wouldn’t happen in a Christian school, would it?

Sit down, my friend. It happened right on this campus.

Let me tell you the time I was the teacher in the Strangest Study Hall in History.

In our early years here at GCA, I was relegated to overseeing a post-lunch afternoon study hall, a collection of about fifteen students who were pretty docile for the most part.  They had their homework agenda in front of them, and most went to work with a fervor.  Others would go to the rear of the room to a circular table and play cards or an occasional chess game.  One junior – with my permission – would line chairs up next to the wall, lie down and take an amazingly deep nap.  After two weeks he actually brought a pillow to class.

Everything started off so well…

…but then I had to open my big mouth.zockollroom 2

It started off like this:

In the class I soon noticed three boys with quick wits and creative minds. Justin, Jacob and Alan had already established themselves intellectually an admirable accomplishment in the prior year: the creation of a a six-minute claymation animated feature.  It was shown onscreen in a school assembly, getting great reception from cheering kids.  They actually put a moving clay model of me in the animation, and it wasn’t a pretty sight.

They comprised a mysterious group, though, with a slew of quirks.  Alan had a fixation on fire.  Jacob was addicted to Altoids, once eating an entire Large Tin in one class period (over ninety tablets).  Justin was working on an elaborate card game, a cross between a medieval castle challenge and Pokémon.  They admitted to me at one point they had toyed with the idea of creating a computer virus just to see if they could do it.

They were quite friendly and very engaging in conversation, so at lunch one day Alan plied some old anecdotes from me about my years as a youth pastor, and could I tell a good mysterious story?

I chuckled and regaled the group with the memory of some of my youth group teaming up with me to play a gentle trick on some of the junior high kids in the youth group.  We had invented a totally nonsensical game called “Bon-Wah” and would play as a group, taking in one junior high player at a time.  We would make up rules as we went, having no goal, and string the newbie into the game, allowing them to win various tricks and hands.  They would get excited and cheer themselves, calling out different strategies, while the group did their best to hide their snickering.  These new players were explaining their method of gaming, all the while having absolutely no idea what they were doing, since we were making the whole thing up at the moment. It was, admittedly, hilarious.

I told the story to the three students, and they chuckled along appreciatively.  I headed back to class and thought nothing of it. It was a memory and something that happened long ago.

Wrong assumption.

The next study hall, I was grading quizzes when I looked up to see Justin unfolding a large map-like sheet of paper on the back circular table. Alan brought a box over and pulled out playing pieces.  I strolled to the back and glanced down.  The whole wide sheet was filled with elaborate drawings of pathways, mountains, tunnels and mythical forest creatures. Jacob looked up and grinned.  “Do you like it?  Took us most of last night to get it done.”

“It’s nice,” I replied.  “What kind of game is this?”

Alan swept his hand over the game board.  “We call it ‘Deep Mud Revenge’.”  He held up the game pieces.  “I made these myself.”

“You made up a whole game in one night?” I asked.

Justin nodded.  “Well, let’s just say, in the spirit of ‘Bon-Wah’, we… er, … created a ‘situation.’ We just need some ‘players’ to come along and, well, try to win.”

I shook my head. “Just like Bon-Wah, you have no game rules of goals?  You’re going to fake the whole thing?”

Justin nodded again.  “Yes.  Shall we say that this will be a psychology experiment of sorts.  We’re going to see how long a fellow student can play this game having no idea of the rules or strategies. And how long we can bring him close to winning without actually let him win.”

At this moment, a fellow student named Clyde strolled over.  Largish and easygoing, Clyde grinned slightly and pointed to the game board.

“Ah,” whispered Alan in an aside to me,  “Our first target.”

“Watcha doin’?” asked Clyde.

“Playing a new game that we intend to introduce to the mass market soon,” answered Justin.  “It’s called ‘Deep Mud Revenge’ and it’s not for the faint of heart.  If you don’t mind, we’re going to commence.”

“I finished my homework,” said Clyde, studying the board.  “Could … could I play?”

“Well, I don’t know,” said Alan slowly.  “We’re usually leery of unseasoned players.  It’s a great honor to win and we don’t want to …”

“I’ll learn fast,” said Clyde.

Alan looked at Justin and Jacob with a slow glance.  “Well… okay, but only if you abide by the rules and follow our teaching.”

“I will,” promised Clyde, pulling up a chair.

I walked back to my desk, chuckling.  Their little experiment had its first guinea pig. And, oh, how they strung him along.

“Now, it’s your turn to move, Clyde.  Roll the dice twice, blink and slap the table.  That will put you in the Second Quadrant of Hope,” said Alan.

Clyde obeyed and looked around in anticipation.

Justin scowled and shook his head.  “Nope. He didn’t slap hard enough.  That takes him back to the Tower of Tatters.”

“Ooooh, not good, is it?” asked Clyde.

“No, not at all,” clucked Alan, lowering his eyes.  “Another anemic move like that and you’ll be cast into the Woeful Garage, up on the Rack of Tears.”

And so it went.  They would string Clyde along and get him close to the lead, and then throw in a fictional penalty.  I could hear Clyde grunt in frustration: “I get so close each time and then I do something stupid!”

“Yes, well, you can negate your last mistake if you stand up and spin around three times while whistling ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’,” said Justin with a totally straight face.

Believe it or not, Clyde did exactly what he said.

“Hey, what’s this all about?” asked Linda, moving her chair close to the table.

“Deep Mud Revenge game, but it’s for members only,” said Alan, waving his hand dismissively.

“Now, wait a minute, I want to play,” she complained, while I fought to keep from laughing out loud.  Soon she was involved in trying to Shake the Pursuit of the Crimson Dragon.  I could hear Clyde’s grunts.  He was three spaces from the end until the boys had him cast into the Refrigerator of Despair.

The game caught hold the next day.  More students were spectating as Clyde and Linda became involved in a game they knew nothing about.  Didn’t matter.  They were obsessed with it.

Clyde:  “I just kicked the table three times!  That means I get the Lower Flood Tidal Zone property!”

Alan: “That is correct, so move your Screaming Red Sequoia four spaces…”

Clyde: “Oh, this is great.  I’ll finally win!”

Alan:  “Sorry.  You didn’t sing the Rogue’s Anthem while you moved.  Back ten spaces to Oily Swamp. Lose a turn.”

Clyde: “Arrrrrgh!”

The game board got more elaborate and so did the addiction.

I turned from my keyboard to see that Clyde had his shoe up to his face.

“What are you doing?” I demanded.

“I sank into Occam’s Swamp, ” said Clyde, “but I can get out if I lick the bottom of my shoe to show the proper Peasant Humility.”

“Cut that out,” I said, ” and put your shoe back on.”

The study hall became the topic of conversation among the other students, and soon the rest of the class would race to get their homework done and watch the arena action.  The room took on a whole new aura.  More board space was added, and I believe marbles and a salt shaker came into play.  I kept my composure, but it was an enjoyable madness.  How long did it go on, two weeks, two months, the whole semester?  I can’t remember.  I thought of the whole game situation as Tolkien fantasy science fiction with a Three Stooges twist.

At times it was fall-down funny as I watched Linda and Clyde roll their heads clockwise in order to Achieve Balance with Middle Earth and defeat the Ice Cream Monster with Fudge Feet.

Ah, how I laughed.  I love to laugh.

And I know that this goofiness is part of me.  All of us, really.

So many people question why I became a Christian, and there are many reasons, the most of which is that I want to enjoy the Father’s Kingdom and celebrate with Christ forever.  I want to sit and roar with laughter at the feasts lined up for the Believers.  I want to hear great stories.  I want to feel the excitement of Heaven.

And I simply want to have fun.

And laugh and celebrate.

And get a little goofy sometimes.

“…for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10

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2 Comments
  1. "Justin" permalink

    There also was a lime green candle that somebody bit…

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