Odd Encounters 4

“I like your tattoo. Is it real?” We’re in the middle of a noisy conference hall. My feet already hurt, and I’m not even wearing pumps. My skirt is a little too tight. She has long straight hair, an earnest beautiful face, winning smile. She looks like a Filipina soccer mom.

I always want to say no, not real. I like to rotate temporary tattoos. It’s tempting. I forget people don’t always like tattoos, or seeing them. “Yes.”

We talk about tattoo work and color. Tattoo colors are different colors. They are black and gray. Colored. Watercolor. “It fades,” she says. “After a few years, if you’re not careful. Keep out of the sun.”

“I have one too.” She says. It’s secret. Most women tend to get tattoos in secret places: hip, rib, back of leg, top of thigh. Other women tend to get tattoos in small places: wrist, ankle, the tiny place just under the back of your neck, the tip of your spine. “But I don’t show the others.” Conservative culture sometimes makes for conservative rebellion.

We continue to wait for the meeting to go on break. It’s hard to be different here. They remember differences, even after the years pass: the girl with blue hair, the two people who kissed in the parking lot (but they were married to different people), the Japanese man who went mad in his office, shut himself in. This, that.  They call you siga, like you wade into things to wage war. I think of the dozen tattoos I seriously wanted, and how they lurk under my skin, waiting.

“If I was a bit…” I want to say brave, or dumb, but being brave or dumb isn’t defined by the body art you wear, or the armor you carry. “Crazier, I guess. I would have covered my arms now.” I make this gesture, like pulling on sleeves.

She tells me about her friend — always a friend, the ultra Amazon, tattooed goddess type friend. I wanted to be that girl, I want to tell her but I don’t. I don’t really know this woman. For a moment there, I even forgot her name.

Activities

After the Life Altering Break-Up (henceforth dubbed LABU). I went through the mandatory soul-searching Activities.

I drank a lot of bad craft beer and a few good ones, a lot of whiskey, oodles of Black Label, and Double Black. I ran a 10k, tried a few new hobbies, and gave up some others.

Once, in an effort to acquire [redacted], I met up with  L –, a good friend from Baguio at a nearby mall. L — played guitar very well, but also sold [redacted] on the side for extra cash.  As I waited by the tiny Ferris Wheel, listened to the inane loop of children’s songs (these places always seem to have children nursery rhymes sung in little irritating voices). I thought. Hurrah! This is my life. My friend showed up next to me the way spies do in movies, materializing from the nether.

“Uy.” Followed by a friendly shove. L — was gaunt, but carried a beer belly around like a favorite kid.

“Beer tayo?” My treat, since I was buying.

“Go.”

Sometimes when I look back at periods in my life they come back like snapshots.

There was this one sad/happy day when I went to eat with A — at this cute little restaurant in Taft. It was raining, I think, but I don’t really remember. I don’t remember the food because I spent most of the meal with my head on the table, crying. I don’t remember why  (we usually have a purpose, like a gig or an inuman) we met up, but that wasn’t really important.

A lot of the snapshots involve cab drivers. Mostly because I wasn’t driving in the city yet and Manila has snarly, horrid traffic that gets exponentially worse as the weather worsens.

I once sat through a terrific lecture from this old cab driver who happened to be probably the most devoted member of Iglesia ni Kristo. First, he tried to invite me to service. When I demurred, he said. “Iha, sa simbahan mo mahahanap true love mo.*” He proceeded to tell me about his first wife, who passed away and how he met his second wife, and how lucky he was in love.

I was really sad when I got home that day, let me tell you that.

The next week or so, I was stuck in three hour traffic with an utterly insane cab driver who told me how he caught his wife cheating.

He had been deeply suspicious of an affair between wifey and neighbor, who was also one of his closest friends. It was his birthday. They had a little celebration, which became a drinking session for the adults. In time, the number dwindled as various party goers said goodbye until only the three of them remained.

Kuya Driver feigned extreme drunkenness and told them that he was tired and needed to sleep, but that they could keep drinking if they wanted. His wife even tucked him into bed and gave him a good night kiss.

Imaginin mo yun!”**

An hour later, he caught them in-flagrante delicto, on the sofa in the living room. The neighbor ran for his life, disappearing so fast he left his pants and shirt behind.

He then proceeded to drag his wife out of the house to beat her senseless in front of all their neighbors. So badly he knocked out most of her teeth! The guy was also their neighbor, and it turned out everybody knew about the affair except him.

During this cab ride, I was mostly quiet, except the horrified gasps that kept coming out of my mouth. I kept wishing that I hadn’t forgotten my headphones at the office or engaged this particular driver in conversation at all.

I think he noticed, because he tried to console me with: “I had her teeth fixed, don’t worry.”

Translation:

* You will find your true love in a church. or more colloquially, I was mostly evil and wouldn’t find a good man in a bar, so I better like save myself by hanging around in a church. 

**Imagine that! 

mix tapes – the cranberries

In third grade, we moved to Manila from our little city perched on the mountain.  It was the middle of summer and I had never realized how hot a city could be before. As an added insult to injury, my sisters and I somehow managed to contract lice at the same time. After a couple of Kwell baths and extensive hair-combing, my mom had had enough and decided to simply cut off my waist-length hair. (As an adult I somehow got lice from a public bus, and Kwell made a reappearance in my life. But later, I had more patience, and I didn’t lop all my hair off.). Manila also had minimal trees, like some non-tree lover had made an executive decision in the past to simply not let them exist.

School was horrid, especially at first. I was used to smaller, Montessori-style classes where I could freely leave my classroom to go play Chinese Checkers with this blind kid who would also leave his classes to play guitar in the principal’s office.  This didn’t fly well at my new, strict, Catholic school.

I was also a probinsyano, which is kind of the equivalent of a redneck from Redneckville moving to New York. Like most Baguio kids, I spoke too much English and mixed it with a local dialect, Ilocano (a social faux pas, to always say kwan, which is more of a punctuation, than an expression if anything else). I could barely speak Tagalog. I had short hair, which wasn’t allowed. I was too nerdy, too eager, too something. I was also, and still am, gullible as all hell.

I felt bad because everyone was listening to Ace of Base and Wooden Heart and songs I had no idea existed. My music education was almost entirely composed of Disney and my parent’s extensive  CD collection. I had just discovered the Cranberries, and I loved them.  I remember bringing the CD to a school show and tell and a classmate, derisively asking, “Ano yan? Baduy.”

CranberriesNoNeedToArgueAlbumcover

source

I did not like Zombie, which would later be the hit that they would be remembered for. The music video made me uncomfortable, but the album itself is still quite a classic. I’ve grown to like the song, but anyone who sings it during karaoke sessions instantly loses cred. 

This album (which I recently listened to again) revealed sadder songs like Everything I said and Twenty-One. During long trips home to Baguio, we would sing it in the car with my parents, For this reason, I occasionally like to play it on when I travel alone.

 

Sometimes

Your life is full of spectacular quiet.

 

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Taal Lake, 2016

 

Full of faraways and farewells, because for you it’s true. People change. If they don’t, the circumstances they face make them change. You know this now because you are old enough to know that it’s the truth.

It’s weird how easy it feels now. People move away, come back. They come back different, thinner, older, with different interests. The girl who used to hate motion now loves yoga. The boy you knew in college tells you, quietly, he really really likes boys and maybe he always did. You’ve changed, but you don’t admit it. You move quietly. You don’t feel that young urge to make people like you.  But you don’t laugh as much as you did.

You try to make it better by thinking, oh, I’m not the only one in the world saying goodbye, or hello again. Or asking how someone is over miles and miles.

“Hold still, I’m taking a screenshot.”

“Okay. Do you know the sun sets at 9 pm over here? It’s crazy!”

 

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Skype with Cousin J – 2016

 

You spent a part of your life submerged, thinking maybe this is it for you. There’s nothing else, because you can’t imagine anything else.  You’ve ended too. It feels like you cast paper into the water and when you made a grab for it, it disintegrated. You can’t put anything back together. You feel like you barely remember it.  But it’s not true.

It just shifted. Nothing really ends.

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Daisy in the garden

Life moves.

 

 

 

Market Trips

The best kind, where you can take photos and look forward to later eating.

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The market was next to a line of seafood restaurants and along Manila Bay.

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Select what you like, how many kilos of this and that, have them cook it for you and then chow down.

I love markets, the glistening rows of fish and squid, the lobster tanks, the shrimp.

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(The eating, later, was also delicious.)

Manila, Cataloged (Part One)

Bars

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.

Cats

“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.

Coffee

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.

Energy Drinks

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.

Motels

A never again, in your book. Crossed out forever.

Traffic

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.

Doorways and Inanities

Yesterday KH and I were talking by a doorway. No, actually, we were in the actual doorway, chatting about whatever like no one was going to pass through. We were in a hospital. Like true blue Filipinos, standing in doorways like no one ever has to pass through. I was so ashamed.

This is a shoutout to all ya’ll who:

a) Get on the LRT and stand right in the doorway even if you get off 25 stops away. Bonus points if you’ve got a little extra height or weight wise. Bonus points if you don’t bother to move when people need to get out, so they’re forced to elbow you and hold their bags over their heads.

Extra credit if you like to cluster at the doorway even if the aisles are completely people-free!

b) Stand directly in front of elevator doors when they open, and then stare at people when they try to get out. Belligerence is the new black.

c) Stop in the middle of stairways to text, so that people can break around you like water breaking around the tide. Like just come to a complete standstill. People should have hazard lights.

d) Have massive family gatherings in front of escalators. Hugs and kisses, can I push you off this floor, thanks.

e) Stand in restaurant entrances and peer up at the sign, asking, is this it? Where are we? What are we doing here? 

Seriously, we should know better than that.