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[whitespace] Illustration Christmas in the Dormitory of the Gods


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Hobbinobben Hall is one of a dozen small dormitories at the northeast corner of Captain Candle College. Established in 1961 in the Lower San Mortimer Mountains of Upper Southern Cupperwood, Captain Candle College (CapCandle for short) has long held an odd reputation among institutes of higher learning, in part for its curious curriculum combining the study of theology with a thorough mastery of arts and crafts.

The other cause for CapCandle's notoriety is Hobbinobben Hall itself.

Named for the late theologian-glassblower Agnes E. Hobbinobben, the charming three-story house boasts elliptical stained-glass windows, a garden on the roof, a remarkable freestanding mahogany bookshelf built in the shape of a double helix--and a peculiar tendency to attract students who believe, or claim to believe, they are God.

Every semester since Hobbinobben first opened its big, blue doors, there has been at least one scholar living there who professes to be God or Buddha or Jesus or Mother Earth--which is why little Hobbinobben Hall has come to be known as the Dormitory of the Gods.

Which brings us to the Christmas of 1977.

Our story takes place during winter break, when the campus is closed but the dormitories remain open in case any student wishes to remain at CapCandle.

That winter six students, most of them "gods," stayed behind at Hobbinobben Hall and, after narrowly averting a Holy War, committed an act so remarkable it has since become an annual Hobbinobben tradition.

The first of the remaining students was God, a studious, middle-aged woman majoring in comparative religions and jewelry making. Pan was a short, stocky fellow who got along as well with Buddha--a quiet, keeps-to-himself type--as he did with a certain earthy young woman known as the Venus of Villendorf. The fifth resident was a nice blue-haired boy named Krishna, who was fond of telling the tale of that other Krishna whose unfortunate death came as a result of a bad wound to the foot.

The sixth student was Tim, a talented glassblower with an easygoing disposition and a clever nature. The odd man out at Hobbinobben that Christmas, Tim was the only resident who had never once suggested that he was in any way divine.

Nor, as an avowed agnostic, would he have believed in himself if he had.

As Dec. 25 approached, the affable Hobbinobbens began discussing how to mark the upcoming holiday. "It's a special time of year," said God on the snowy morning of Christmas Eve, as they all shared breakfast in the study. "And we really should have a celebration."

Pan agreed and promptly suggested a ritual bonfire in the rooftop garden. Or at least a big tree in the study. And a large turkey dinner.

"No turkeys, please," insisted the very vegetarian Krishna, stepping around the remarkable freestanding mahogany bookshelf built in the shape of a double helix. "But I think a tree would be nice."

It was the Venus of Villendorf who objected to chopping down trees, though she did warm to the idea of a bonfire on the roof provided that only found wood was used. She also suggested a traditional exchange of gifts.

"No gifts," insisted Buddha. "I'm trying to rise above the seductive siren song of material possessions. But I have no problem with a bonfire on the roof."

"A bonfire? On the roof?" exclaimed God. "What are you all trying to do, burn the place down?"

Tim, who'd been listening attentively, muttered only, "I don't really care what we do--as long as we do it together."

And so it began. Though still unanimously committed to some kind of ritual or celebration, the group of gods found that a thick and unsavory discord had somehow invaded the debate. Each new suggestion met with a chorus of disapproval, voiced in tones ranging from simple obstinacy to outright disdain.

"Well, this is just typical," growled the usually composed God as a solid hour of peevish debate came to a fruitless finish. "You people never had much discipline. And no respect for authority." God, it should be pointed out, was a senior that year. None of the other Hobbinobben students ranked higher than a junior.

"Oh, don't start with that authority stuff," exclaimed the Venus of Villendorf, rolling her eyes. "You just can't admit you're not the only one with enlightened ideas."

"You call these enlightened ideas?" laughed an uncharacteristically rude Krishna. "None of you would know an enlightened idea if it bit you on the foot!"

Pan, thoroughly insulted, began making gross goat noises whenever anyone else tried to talk, while Buddha turned his back on the others, conspicuously posing in stiff, unyielding silence.

Things got bad before they got worse. By the end of the day, the usually broad-minded and cheerful Hobbinobbens had descended to outrageously improper forms of communication. Unable to reach any agreement about how to spend the winter holiday, they grew exponentially surlier.

And as the group's increasingly thin facade of religious goodwill began to slough off, the beady-eyed intolerance that normally dared not step within the walls of Hobbinobben sashayed through the front door. It looked like it was preparing for a nice long stay.

Ultimately, the gods even resorted to calling each other insensitive and childish names--Venus of Villen-Doof, Buddha-ball, Tender Foot, Goat-boy. And so on.

Had Tim never spoken up, God and Buddha and Krishna and Pan and the Venus of Villendorf might have started throwing things--a dangerous development indeed when you consider the objects commonly lying around a college half devoted to arts and crafts.

But Tim did speak up. Drawing on years of religious and historical study--and countless hours of accident-packed glassblowing practice--he uttered the six most practical, most understanding, most truly god-like words the others had ever heard.

Said Tim, "Let's just start over from scratch."

It was midnight when the ruffled residents of Hobbinobben gathered again.

"OK. Since a Christmas tree is not unanimously acceptable," Tim began quietly, "does anyone have any objection to decorating...this?"

He looked up at the remarkable freestanding mahogany bookshelf built in the shape of a double helix. All the gods gazed up at the remarkable freestanding mahogany bookshelf built in the shape of a double helix. There were no objections.

"Now," Tim went on, with a certain gleam in his eye. "Are there any objections to ornaments?"

At the word "ornaments" a kind of shock shot through God, Buddha, Krishna, Pan, and the Venus of Villendorf. Faster than any one of them could say "Let there be light," each deity conjured a vision of the remarkable freestanding mahogany bookshelf built in the shape of a double helix newly adorned with the one-of-a-kind ornaments each would craft that very night.

Agreement came quickly: The ornaments would represent all currently present residents of Hobbinobben Hall, and there would be one handcrafted wonder for each of them. Though no one had yet left the room, every god in the house was already at work, mentally designing the work of art that would represent him or her when it was hung the next morning for all to see.

Tim had anticipated this. As the gleam in his eye grew even brighter, he explained the rest of his plan. The name of every student would be written on a separate scrap of paper and dropped in a bowl. Each resident would then draw one name from the bowl, indicating the god whose ornament he or she would make.

The protests came instantly. None of the gods of Hobbinobben liked this plan.

"Fine," said Tim. "Then what shall we do? As I said before, I don't care what we do. As long as we do it together."

A certain silence settled over the room, and by the time it was over, they all had looked inside themselves and observed a slightly embarrassed, thoroughly chastened deity, looking up sheepishly and begging for another chance.

Sixty seconds later saw every name being written on a scrap of paper, every scrap of paper being placed in the bowl, every student reaching into that bowl, and everyone exiting the room with a scrap of paper in his or her hand.

When Christmas morning dawned on Hobbinobben Hall, an assemblage of weary gods met once more at the remarkable freestanding mahogany bookshelf built in the shape of a double helix. Each carried a fresh creation, built with all the craft, all the wisdom, and all the renewed understanding and appreciation they could muster.

One by one, each held up an ornament.

Young Krishna, his blue hair sagging slightly, shyly displayed a stunning stained-glass Buddha, shimmering with color, about the size of whiffle ball. It was in the traditional form of the Buddha, except that Krishna, having recognized during a long night of self-reflection a bit of the Buddha in himself and a bit of himself in the Buddha, had made the Buddha ornament blue.

"I couldn't have done better myself," said Buddha as the work of art was hung from the remarkable freestanding mahogany bookshelf built in the shape of a double helix. Taking his turn, Buddha revealed his handcrafted representation of Pan. A gorgeous origami goat, it was made of hand-pressed green paper, and Pan nearly cried to see himself through his friend Buddha's eyes.

Each ornament was presented in turn. Pan produced a multicolored, sand-sculpted effigy of the Venus of Villendorf with a matching anatomically correct male version, similarly proportioned. To symbolize the studious God, the Venus made a ceramic lightning bolt, decorated with pieces of God's sophomore year essay, "The Downside of Omnipotence."

And finally, to represent Krishna (and to make up for the insensitive Tender Foot remarks), God had fashioned an ornament resembling a pair of pure silver boots adorned with bright blue gemstones.

With all five ornaments finally revealed, those assembled suddenly realized that not only had Tim not shown any ornament, none of them had made an ornament to represent Tim.

"It seems," he said, "that I drew my own name."

With that, he presented his own creation, a glass-blown tube swirled into the shape of a question mark. It was done in a soft, opalescent glass that, once it too was hung from the remarkable freestanding mahogany bookshelf built in the shape of a double helix, seemed to perfectly reflect the intermingling colors of all the others.

The holidays ended, and the ornaments were all carefully stored away. But a tradition had begun at Hobbinobben Hall. From that day on, whenever students stay on campus during winter break, the original six ornaments are brought out on Christmas morning and hung up on the remarkable freestanding mahogany bookshelf built in the shape of a double helix.

Over the years, many new ornaments have been added, with more made each winter. If you visit Hobbinobben Hall on Christmas morning, you will now see an ornament to represent every god, goddess, demigod, or prophet who ever lived at Hobbinobben Hall.

You will notice, too, that every single year, someone adds another question mark.

For that's how it's done in the Dormitory of the Gods.

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From the December 20-26, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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