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. Continue reading

Advertisements

Strangers. Not Anymore.

Monday, November 18th:

After a failed attempt at what could be a graceful exit from my team at work, which is by all accounts, will be another garment I don’t have the heart to thow away, but kept in that emotional baggage I carry with me through life, I volunteered, following a friend’s advice to help out, in  something I used to do incognito. Packed a couple of shirts, my water bottle, bought some ready mix coffee, some styro cups, plastic utensils, and boarded a white-knuckle bus ride to Magallanes, a stop necessary to switch rides to Villamor, one of those jam-packed commutes.

At the stop, it’s like I hardly knew the place, with all the construction made in the last 7 years or so. Still, I know my way around the place and found Villamor Airbase Gate without a glitch. Surely, I was confident there wouldn’t be that much change with the airforce base entrances. I went in, remembering military bases are different from civilian places and I have to abide by their rules, something the average person might want to consider before barging in.

Cool. Villamor Airbase has a small fleet of e-Cars, those nifty, electric-powered shuttle vehicles that remind me of San Pedro buses that used to ply Laguna towns, with open sides and no need for a door. And eventually I arrived at the Grandstand, buzzing with activity and easily found them:

1426595_10151719853761428_2022386069_n

Introduced myself as a volunteer, somewhat awkwardly, as things go, and looked around to see what I could do. Located at the back of the grandstand, it was a row of open tents filled with people all doing one thing or another – a real kitchen functioning with skilled chefs and cooks, knives slicing away, the coffee commandos giving out hot beverages, and there was Ted, jovial fellow who I took for as the person in charge for the night. Farther on I could see clothes, donations for the survivors, being sorted out so that people can find their sizes easily, and beyond that, bigger tent that served as the dispatch spot, where a group of volunteer drivers, taxis and private vehicles wait for their turn to transport people to their destinations. There, a small group of organizers are tirelessly speaking on PA system, asking takers for fares as far as Nueva Ecija, social workers assisting their charges, a couple of people taking turns at the mic coordinating, nudging, cajoling, something that continued, I surmised ,  24 hours. Good people.

As I took it all in, it was automatic, right then and there, helping out where needed, usually carrying stuff , spot clean ups, anything that need extra hands. The kitchen, as it really is, is literally a cauldron of activity,  and these are people who are really into culinary art. I know, I used to be a waiter at a golf course, and the people there are expertly cooking, stirring, slicing, all volunteers. And the smell of food just fills the air. There were times me and Adrian, a  seaman by trade exchanged stories, in between puffs of smoke.  And so it was that the whole night – sandwiches, rice in volumes, meat, vegetables , all from donors, prepared by volunteers, and we gave them out readily.

Some 200 to 300 survivors arrive with every C130 plane that land. The whole process was handled by people from the government. Not going to comment on that. It deserves a different post. And I could say a lot about THAT.

2am, Tuesday, November 19th:

By this time, I got the groove sustained. Stocks are stacked, coffee is flowing, our numbers increased by two, sisters, who lived nearby. Lugaw is prepared for breakfast, sandwiches from a good volume of sliced bread donations, meat dishes all the way from Batangas or Cavite, I hardly remember, and anyone can ask for it.

Everyone. Soldiers. Marshals. Social workers. Volunteers. Survivors.

Not strangers anymore.

As the sun rises, and the Lugaw nearly empty, the Adobo and rice also almost gone, eggs, the rest of us night ghouls are also just waiting for the next batch of volunteers, and I failed to mention earlier, these band of brothers and sisters are cooks, chefs, doctors, lawyers, photographers, nurses, artists, students and new grads, you know, ordinary people who just want to help.

I left Villamor Airbase at 8am or thereabouts, took the long route by bus, and slept like a log at the apartment here in Novaliches.

at 7pm, Tuesday, November 19th:

Found myself already on another white knuckle bus ride to Villamor. Arrived at the site at 9pm past. It was a different group of people I found there manning the front. There was a young lady there taking stock and inventories and doing the social media posting for ArtRelief, whom I mistook for Kyra,

Alexa_Davalos_by_David_Shankbone_cropped

or Alexa Davalos, you know,  from the movie Riddick, because that what Alexa will look like if she had been a Filipina,but that’s all the familiar face I know.

It didn’t matter.

We. All of us.

We are not strangers anymore.

Gratitudes galore to Isi, (it was her fault I got into this) Ted, Alex, Chef, UP, Indios, Kuya Bodjie and all volunteers. This old man maybe taking time for some rest tonight, but will be back for more tomorrow, November 21st. And I appeal to others, this is the long haul, please click the image above and know what to do with donations and volunteer duties.

In September 21, 1972, I was 3 . . .

I was born in this small town, in the crook of Sierra Madre’s long arm that stretches from way down South, reaching to the North of the archipelago.  My memories of being a three-year-old in September 21, 1972 is long forgotten. But I remember growing up with DWIZ and DZRH on AM Radio. My mother, a widow, was a great cook, and has her own recipes for popular delicacies and some entirely her own. Growing up, I was  surrounded by the sound of hogs squealing in the morning, the smoke from the fire for cooking Suman, and the daily chores of peeling Santol being prepped for making Sweet Santol Preserve,  slicing, chopping veggies for the Ulam to be sold at our makeshift store, Burong Mustasa, and the artistry that was Paete – all woodcarving, furniture making, paper-mache and music.

Our evenings were spent watching John & Marsha on our Toshiba Television, with the sliding covers, wood inlays, plugged to a big-ass power converter with the gauge that looks like something you’d see on a jeepney dashboard. My Mother insists on not being disturbed once Aawitan Kita is on.  Of course, me and my four siblings (I’m the 4th , do the math) take turns watching our favorites. It was a time when Toyota and Crispa were the major Trophy contenders on Channel 4.

Continue reading