There are so many of them. In your hometown, you only ever went to six and that was when you were flush. You rotated them depending on your mood, the day of the week, how much gasoline you had or what kind of cheeseburger you were craving. Manila bars are flavored with the different cities and the different people who inhabit them. It’s a smorgasbord that pleases the alcoholic in you.
Here you travel hours to sit outside a bar in a corner alley, observing the boarded pawnshop front and thinking vaguely of stealing the books for sale on the shelves in the wall. Inside the walls are lined with disco balls, the beer is cheap and people dance in front of this impeccable, tiny DJ booth. This week a friend tells you that “The disco ball fell off and shattered. I think some drunk bastard pulled it down.”
Here, on a hot night your friend tells you, “I know a secret whiskey bar. You need a password to get in. Let’s get a few hotdogs.” You have no idea why she says hotdogs, and then later, dining on one covered in pickles you feel like your life is so good, so delicious. They keep the whiskey in a recessed, temperature controlled shelf. The odd pleasure you feel when you see it is new. So you find yourself in a corner booth with genuine leather seats your thighs keep sticking to, and you run up enormous tabs.
Your favorites are the converted houses that keep cheap booze stocked — just beer, an effort to look a bit more festive, an aloof and distant waiter. You like these bars because they feel like someone’s house. They feel like your old house, and that all your friends might just come over, if you asked.
“I hate cats.” He tells you. It’s hot and you can feel his thigh pressed against yours. This is a cat city — stray dogs don’t seem to last long enough. You spot felines everywhere, slinking through stairways, licking themselves on stoops.
Earlier that month after a long dinner, M spots a stray small cat without friends, and both of you try to rescue a kitten hiding in some bushes. You’re both unwilling to keep it, but it jumps to a ledge and hisses, and you both give up and turn away.
You miss K walking into the office and asking for coffee, and you would eat plantains and eggs that you buy from the same vendor in the street corner. You think of K hustling in Seattle, and make notes to call. You forget to call.
You want to tell her that the girl who sometimes watches the sugared banana stall gave birth, and that the baby is a boy. That the office is very empty now compared to before. That nothing much has changed in the corner of Manila that you work in. It’s still hot, the trains still don’t work. Sometimes early in the morning you can smell the coffee burning when the doors of the 7-Eleven open.
Your energy drink addiction is showing. So you always hide the evidence, but then who are you hiding it from? You buy the sugar-free Monster drink, the big blue-black one that you can drink in one sitting. You tell yourself the sugar-free thing is a good thing. For some reason, all you can think of when you drink these drinks is that terrible computer shop you used to hang out in so you could play World of Warcraft, the one next to the tattoo shop you eventually got one of your tattoos in. You think it’s probably still there, under another name. Still, there’s a plastic bag in your car full of energy drinks, and when people say your car smells sweet you tell them it’s your perfume.
Instant Coffee Mixes
Everybody in this city drinks this terrible instant coffee mixes that you secretly love. It’s not even coffee. It’s sugar, coffee flavoring and assorted flavors. You try not to drink them, stick to your principles. In the morning, if you’re alone and you wake up early enough, you brew yourself a cup of coffee and sit. You feel very adult, but you’ve been an adult for a long time.
A never again, in your book. Crossed out forever.
Is inevitable — don’t waste time complaining. Leave earlier or later. Make playlists to sing along to. Keep a movie to watch, or an audiobook ready. Make sure you always have gas. Drive without fear, drive like a pro. Make sure you catch the eyes of truck drivers when they try to squeeze all of the 8-wheeler bulk into the sedan-sized space in front of you. Reserve the finger for really special occasions.
Traffic Annex A: Bathroom Breaks
When in dire need, turn off engine and leave car stranded in the middle of the lane. It has been 30 minutes since last movement. Thank God you’ve been running. “We have no women’s bathroom.” The attendant says. You think of the Isuzu truck behind you plowing your car out of the lane once the lights turn green, if they ever. You think of waterfalls.
“I don’t care.” You tell them. “I don’t care.”
Traffic Annex B: Flooding
The only person who knows that you were screaming is you, and the guy sitting in the jeep in front of you who looked vaguely like he understood, but also that he was afraid. You broke out in a cold sweat when you had to maneuver the car onto this steep slope, handbrake, manual, clutch for life. Grip on the steering wheel turning your knuckles white. No one knows why you were screaming, not even you.