The Prodigal Son Returns

The day started with me walking up Buendia Avenue on a nippy Saturday morning, on my way to a rendezvous point where Arniel, an old friend whom I haven’t seen for about a decade, give or take a few, is going to give me a ride down memory lane.

The blasted dude didn’t age one bit! Still the tidy, neat guy he was when we were getting shitfaced drunk back in the day (well I was always shitfaced drunk back then, he was seldom inebriated, methinks). He arrived and we gassed up, he did some work stuff for a couple of minutes and we were off.

We went to see the boys back home, home being Paete, Laguna, where we grew up.

The Bulldogs Club, as we’re famous, or infamous for, depends on who you’re talking to, was a bunch of guys growing up in Paete, painting souvenir bulldog pen heads, and everything started from there. We had a basketball team that became one of the team to beat at our local basketball tournaments (yes we have a pennant!) which came slow and hard, as we were wet behind the ears and was only in it for the heck of it. Our early team names, as Ka Emer reminded me, was Loafers, then became Youngsters, back then already giving the opposing team a hard time, and the official Bulldogs Team that won a championship, if I recall correctly. Basketball games at smalltowns are really an event worth cleaning and brushing your flipflops clean and be seen among the fans shouting bloody murder when a referee failed to call a foul.

Good times!

It’s not just being a basketball team, I can hardly dribble, but the rest of the guys were good at it. We also dabbled in music. Everyone in our crew can sing, but it was me who did most of the vocal duties when we decided to learn our chops seriously. Ambo on guitar, Tavern on drums, Me on bass and vocals, and most anyone who would jam with us, with the few song list we can play decently. Most of the time we were playing, we were also drinking, as most boys in our age then are wont to do. There was also that part of long forgotten memories, when, before we started palying in a band, we would pool up our money buy some pasta, set-up a place with a few strobes and colorful lights, taking turns at the tape player and turntable and viola! The party is on! To make sure all the invited girls can eat what measly food and drinks we had to offer, we made sure everyone has taken their share before eating ourselves, maybe even waiting for some leftovers.

Bulldogs Club Collage

Photos: Nelia De Luna, Arniel cajumban, Mahalia dalay, Rey Cajipe

Music has always been a part of the Bulldogs Club. And yesterday, I sang my heart out, because I haven’t anything to contribute financially, I just added some entertainment with my singing, even though it’s really hard to say the words when I’ve got less teeth now as I did back then. Still, yesterday was when I feel I could fuck up a song and the guys wouldn’t mind. But I think I did pretty well, considering I had to follow a more visceral singer in the person of Ramil.

So we were all there, wives and kids in tow. I never realized we were THAT old now. But it seems like it was just the right time to go back and mingle with all the people I grew up with. The food was great, specially, theLaksa, creamy and just the right salty taste I came to love when we were younger. Lino (DeLuna) told me his sister or brother, I forgot, prepared the food and it was glorious.

Good friends, good food, good music. What else could I ask for?

Turned out, there was more fun ahead.

But let me get this out of the way first…

When I came back to Mayor Street in Makati, I also enjoyed the camaraderie of newfound friends here. But the resulting odd looks and wary glances stuck in my mind. I was not shaving for some months, my hair, though not too long, was not what they were accustomed to. And the weight. I nremember I wasn about a 100kg , and now I’m a meean 70kg. I got quizzical looks with my weight.

And this is what warms my heart…

Only friends, close,good, no nonsense friends will ask me outright, something even family avoid asking:

“Pare, are you on drugs? Punyeta, pare baka naman addict kana kaya ang payat mo?”

This was not the exact words uttered to me when I was at our Bulldogs Club Gathering, but the essence is the same. And you know what, I was not, I am not,  offended. Because only real friends would insult you, welcome you, berate you and ask you cutting questions and it was all out of love.

Eric asked me that same question, though in a more civil manner, in whatever civil manner old buddies throw at each other. I only answered of course not. And I am , and never was a drug addict. Hell, I couldn’t even keep my alcohol down.

And it warms my heart to hear the old banter and jokes.

I love you guys.

I’m embarrased I haven’t been that communicable in the past but it sure makes up for lost time by reconnecting.

I still have that solitary attitude towards the world. I always remember myself playing alone with  the toys of my own creation, up there at the small terrace we used to have at the old house. I am, by all accounts, a loner, but I learned to be carefree with good friends around.

So while I am enjoying the good old feeling among kindred spirits, we were already talking, Arniel and I, about our plans of going back to Manila that evening. But Eric has other plans.

From one gathering to another, we went from Lino Baisas’ place to a more intimate gathering with high school friends. More good food, good vibes and a lot of good natured insults and jokes. Wine and Brandy, and some really well prepared entrees I cannot begin to describe. I overheard  Luis saying “ Good food is prepared with love, otherwise, why make it at all?” And I totally agree. The girls called themselves The Genial Teens and it’s evident the geniality has remained over the years. These are my female friends that stuck it out, even when we were getting all sorts of looks from back then, because we were like bothers and sister. The guys, Balakwit, was a name Amang Nico gave us that stuck and even became a basketball team too (see? Basketball is big in smalltowns). Only an handful of us were there: Luis, Putol, Isay, Jo, Juvy, Leni, Abet, Armer, Mario, Aleth, Rhea, Ada, me and Eric. At some point others came by, Agie and Rod, Cristeta and Beth (schoolmates and  friends, too. Smalltowns tend to have that feeling of everybody knosw everybody) and more laughter ensued.

I could have cried right then and there. I’m a mushy one at heart, and if I hadn’t put my guard down, I could have let those tears of joy and  relief. Because for my part, I was a very bad firned who came to be a recluse and a loner who shut out the world when real life has brought me to my knees.  I was so preoccupied with my own problems that I realized, I only needed to cry for help and it would come. Friends reserve the right to be all bitchy, but would help with no0 questions asked. I surprised myself by spilling the beans oput with just a bit of nudge. These girls who have grown up to be women of substance ( Beth , Joann, Belinda and Tess were abesnt, but it seems they were present) gave me just enough room to just tell them what happened with my life these past years we were apart. At best I am closer to Aleth and Ada the most, but only we have remained in conbtact over the years we spent apart. But that doesn’t mean I love the others less.

Far From it.

Eric’s the one that has really come through for me when Iwas down there and not getting any stronger with all the weight on my shoulders. Could’ve wished for a longer, freee-wheeling time with my friend but his stay here is short and I wouldn’t want to keep from his other obligations.

So I have learned something about myself. I was, still is, a solitary soul among people I have ignored for a lone time, and itr pains me to have done so. These people, these friends, the Bulldogs, Genial Teens, Balakwit, they don’t care about my past transgressions (okay mabe some I have to make amends for), my current looks, the present state I’m in, they don’t care. Period. All I had to do was be ther and all is well in the universe. Joberth, Agie and Rod, you gave me something I didn’t expect, but it was a welcome support on my livelihood. Somehow, someday I will repay you tenfold. Eric, the rest of the Bulldogs Club, wives, pups (boy these pups turned out to be beautiful, witty and better singers than us old farts!) , Genial Teens, Balakwit, I cannot express the gratitude and blessing I have then and now to have grown up with you guys.

For an introvert and a loner, I realized I have so many friends to slap me silly and wake me up when I am dozing off into oblivion.


The Bulldogs: Emer Gajitos,Tmey Cajipe, Lino de Luna, Lino Baisas, Joe Rayton, Joberth Ballares, Rod Dalay, Ramil Dalay, Julito Sanchez, Dexter Villamayor,  Taddy Vocalan, Bong Bagalso, Joselito Angeles,  Rey Cajipe, Rod Gajitos, Odags Kagahastian, Arniel Cajumban,  Elly Baisas, Bikol,  Apang,  Tony Cajipe, Tony Navarro, Taddy Villamayor,Alex Baet, Rading Nombrado, Ogie Capalad, Juan Adel Valdivia, Super, Ricky Balan,  Momoy Valdellon, Mar Madridejos, Ayap and if someone was left out in this list, forgive an old man, I’m still reeling form then experience. A natural high from being with you people is better than any hallucinogenic.

Genial Teens / Balakwit

Photos: Jo Caguin-Rubia

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