Defining spirit: Floundering about at quad decs

Sophomore Felicia Hou takes a break from the hand-painting the ocean.

Sophomore Felicia Hou takes a break from the hand-painting the ocean.

Kristin Chang

Quad Decs affect Homecoming results more than any other category, even surpassing rally results. Still, according to a recent El Estoque survey of 101 respondents, approximately 63 percent of students have never attended. Quad Decs, like Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or New York’s annual ball drop, are one of those beloved perennial rituals that have been going on forever, but that few really experience firsthand.

Besides their miraculous appearance in the court one morning, the majority of students don’t know where Quad Decs come from, how they’re made or what it’s like to be in the presence of so many buckets and wire contraptions — so here’s a porthole glance at the Class of 2016’s shipwrecked Decs.

Sophomore Felicia Hou takes a break from the hand-painting the ocean.
Sophomore Felicia Hou takes a break from the hand-painting the ocean.

Me: Why are you here?
Hou: I had to bring the paint.
Me: That’s it?
Hou: Well, this is fun, too.

Sophomore Peter Kim approaches with a can of spray adhesive, ready to combat the wasp invasion. A noble sacrifice in the War on Bugs.

Sophomore Daniel Vu: Hey, are you sure that’s gonna work?
Peter Kim: Um…
Vu: Do it! Just do it!
A massive cloud of white fumes blinds everyone.
A pause.
Vu: I guess not…
A moment later.
Vu: If they sting me, I’m suing you.
Sophomore Izzy Zheng: If you say so.
A pause.
Zheng: Do you guys want watermelon?
Jessica Li: Yeah!
Vu: Feed it to the bees!

Sophomores Jessica Li, Nathan Mallipeddi, Peter Kim and Izzy Zheng discuss the trials and tribulations of being a team, while in background, sophomore Daniel Vu continues to trace his beloved lionfish.

A meeting is called. “Let’s talk about what we don’t like about each other,” sophomore Jessica Li said, initiating their ritual of constructive criticism. The conversation turns to the importance of respect and the impacts of negligence, the desire for improvement and their shared disappointment and pride. No tears, no hurt feelings, no sugar-coating. Put simply: “Let’s talk about what we hate.”

Sophomores Jessica Li, Felicia Hou and Valerie Lo whitewash the canvas beneath the watchful gaze of Arpit Jasapara.

Li: This doesn’t really look like a ship.
Lo: This is a ship?

This crab is supposed to be here.

Li: Izzy tripped and spilled red paint on the canvas. Peter thought he was so smart and was like, “Oh, I’m gonna paint a crab there!”
Me: Is that why it’s as big as the coral reef?
Li: Yeah, it’s like as big as the ship!

Sophomore Valerie Lo unwraps an ever-growing sea of blue paint.

Me: What’s so great about Quad Decs?
Lo: You get to beat the freshman.
A pause.
Lo: Oh, and you get to meet new people! … except we’ve known everyone here since sixth grade.
“Come to quad decs!” someone shouts from across the driveway.

Spray paint? Spray adhesive? Or a potentially miraculous bug-repellant?

Kim: Use this spray can if the bugs are bothering you.
A minute later.
“Oh my God, that’s a bug!”
“That’s a RED bug!”
“Okay, somebody move the food.”
Kim: Uh … I think they’re eating the chicken … And the watermelon!
Vu: I knew it.

Sophomores Daniel Vu and Izzy Zheng are interrupted by an inconsiderate worm.

The War on Bugs
Vu: Oh my God, that’s the weirdest looking bug!
Zheng slams her hand against the tarp.
Vu: No, no, don’t kill it!
Zheng: Too late, it’s dead.
A wary pause as both parties lean in.
Zheng: NO, WAIT. It isn’t!
Vu: It’s ALIVE.
Zheng: There are guts on the canvas …

Daniel Vu’s efforts are tragically misspent.

Li (to Vu): I feel really bad. It’s going to be covered up when we put the canvas up. You spent all that time painting it and it’s going to be totally invisible!

This is the creepy-crawler breeding ground — a pile of damp cardboard stored in an even damper garage.

The War on Bugs (Part II)
Ally Malone: “Oh my God, what is that?!” Pointing at a black speck scurrying from the disarray of green-painted cardboard.
Arpit Jasapara: Chucks a seaweed cut-out at the invisible vermin.
Nathan Mallipeddi: Wow, Arpit, that did nothing.
The crowd disperses, but the pile is deemed untouchable.

Nobody is quite ready to address the gravest of inquiries: Who gets to pop first?


Vivid blue water, an orange coral reef and the head of a white shark hovers above the prow of an ancient shipwreck, promising long-forgotten treasure. In short, an ocean utopia sought after by the boldest of seafarers. But it seems that the lost city of Atlantis has found a new and unexpected residence: the exotic driveways of Cupertino.

The air was acrid, the grass was yellowing and it was hot enough for an entire ocean to evaporate, but the Class of 2016 was armed with brushes and ready to tackle the great whales of the sea. When asked the most ignorant of questions — “What’s our Quad Dec theme?” — sophomore Arpit Jaspara simply pointed at the crusty blue canvas spanning the lawn and bleeding into the driveway.

“Atlantis,” he said, as if the splotchy red crab should’ve told me as much.

It was time to put on our super-duper serious MVHS Work Ethic Cap…

My foot was wrinkling the fin of a clownfish, a mermaid’s tail was tickling the grass and an iPhone sat on the back of a misshapen shark painted belly-up.

“Oh, right,” I said.

When I glanced back up, a paintbrush was inexplicably in my hand, and I knew that despite the fish puns and Ariel references, this wasn’t just a social calling. Constructing an entire ocean in the span of a few weeks could be very thirsty work. It was time to put on our super-duper serious MVHS Work Ethic Cap, for now was when the day transitioned from spitting watermelon seeds to hooking hoses and painting starfish. Serious business indeed.

So serious that we spent half the day asking why the crab is so darn big and why the hammerhead shark looked vaguely like a chicken. So serious that we spent even more time sprinting after wasps, leading the charge in the battle of the bugs, armed with the miraculous power of non-toxic spray adhesive.

“They’re going to kill us,” sophomore Daniel Vu said, as he warily retracted a paper plate of paint from regrouping wasps.

“Spray ‘em!” sophomore Peter Kim said.

It was difficult not to have fun in a fantasy isle of dolphins and mermaids and papier mâché miracles, where you could craft your own amusement park in the company of friends and soon-to-be-friends. Immersed among streamers and bubble wrap, Quad Decs were like living our preschool dreams in a world of AP textbooks and beige walls. When else did we get to prance about with fake glittery mermaids and trace Nemo’s buddies?

Quad Decs were like living our preschool dreams in a world of AP textbooks and beige walls.

“We couldn’t decide what shade of blue to use,” sophomore Jessica Li said, pointing at a corner of canvas that looked like an implosion of Picasso’s blue period.

Clear communication tended to swim away with the late-afternoon heat, though nothing seemed to dam these craftspeople, not even the seventieth “Okay, what color are the smokestacks?”

The navy of painters bonded over brushes and tape, lamented over the usual test doldrums, even hunkered down in the heavenly shade of the garage to finish pre-calculus homework. Gathered in a venture threatened by wasps and dehydration, they were just that much closer to those few extra Homecoming points.

“We’re not that far away from the juniors! We’re really close,” Li said. “Wait, what color are the smokestacks?”

The complexity of their effort — from the engineering of a real water fountain to frantic Home Depot trips — displayed the type of competitive mentality that has given MVHS a bad rep. But here, it was used for the purpose of unity rather than division. Even in their most panicked hours of “We’re supposed to do the river” and “Oh no, it’s a red bug,” they were determined to bring a little more color to the campus, uniting us on a level of creativity that made me think we were not so boring after all.

Sophomores can be forgettable within the class hierarchy, but like the hidden kingdom of Atlantis, they have the potential to break the surface and compete on the same (non)academic court. Quad Decs may just be paper and paint, but in our greatest imagination, they are humpback whales exploring the Great MVHS Reef.

Besides, there was free bubble wrap. If that isn’t sufficient incentive to go to Quad Decs, then nothing else is.