Got to have a marriage, a divorce or two and some kids, to be in the group. Occasionally we make some bachelor an honorary divorcee, just so he can hang with us. What a life. Marty used to say a man can love more than one child, so he can love more than one woman too. One of his Pinay girlfriends, Tita Marice, told him: “A man loves as many women as he can afford.” I know I love them all still. They’re good women. My first wife is as fine a gal as a man could ask for. Hell, I treated them shamefully at times. Good women with malditos. After getting the ass burning from Rose over and over I got more of an idea of how my other women may have felt. Now days I always try to leave a woman a little better off than when I met her. Good advice from “The Maestro”, Irish Jimmy Higgins.
A man can also love more than one country. I donâ€™t think more than two though. I love both the USA and the Philippines, but now I’m not so hot on living in the USA. I still enjoy Alaska though. Aurillio is lots of fun to be with, but bayan ko Philippines.
Blake, Rob and Steve were having coffee on the terrace at Bo’s on Ramos when I arrived. Matt showed up a few minutes later and we caught a taxi to the South Terminal for the 10:30 bus. Moshe couldn’t make it because he’d had a root canal the day before and was recouping. We were disappointed about Moshe, heâ€™s a mench and we all enjoy his company.
We were on the way to Dalaguete to visit Jim for a meeting at his house. Paul texted from Sibonga on Monday that Jim was passing blood and having severe headaches, so we should be sure to get down there. The last day of the Carcar fiesta was on Wednesday. There was a procession in the afternoon and we’d likely be caught in the traffic, near the plaza. He’d invited us all to go down on Tuesday night and stay at his place, but we decided to go on Wednesday and get there when we got there.
Weâ€™d been to Jim’s every other Wednesday since he was diagnosed 3 months before. We only got slowed down half an hour in the fiesta and got off the bus at Paul’s at 1:30. Sven had been there for a couple hours. He’d caught a bus early from Talisay.
We got in Paul’s Pajero and headed for Dalaguete. It had been raining a bit but was clearing and it was nice to be out of Cebu and rolling along through the country. Not much traffic, a few buses, tricycles, motorbikes and lots of happy school kids in their uniforms along the side of the road.
The low that had edged by over the last few days had brought quite a bit of rain and blown down some corn fields, but no other noticeable damage. The creeks were high and silty as the Yukon, but the sea was blue, as always, just a few whitecaps where the wind was blowing against the current, far out in the channel between Cebu and Cabilao island. Lots of fish ponds around Sibonga and Dalaguete. Prawns, bangus and tilapia. Lovely rice paddies stretching far out to the base of the mountains. Always slim white Cattle Egrets scattered about in the paddies.
Carabao, working and soaking in water holes. The farmers best friend. Families working together, planting and harvesting. Not much change in that for centuries. The province looks like a string of Amorsolo paintings along there. Mga dalaga bathing and laba at the wells.
Paul had stocked the car with mineral water and snacks. Budbud, chicaroon, chocolate and ube pillows along with a big bag of umpao for the local kids. We ate and shot the breeze. Paul and Sven were talking over married life. He had trouble with Heidi. She’d been in his cell phone again, and also found out from a couple of her amegaâ€™s tsismis, that he was seen in Ayala with his student girl. Filipinas know all about men and will overlook a hell of a lot if they don’t lose
“Bloody fuckin oath” said Blake, “We’ve all had trouble and strife with the wife and kerida. What the hell do you expect when you parade Jenine around in public? Delikado mate.” Blake, a Kiwi, was 68, been married twice and now was living in Cebu with a lovely 28 year old Filipina. He and Janice had a beautiful 3 year old girl, Kelly, that they doted on. He had been married to a Filipina for about 20 years, still was in fact, but Maricel was in New Zealand, living in Blake’s house in Christchurch. They had 2 grown children in the house, Annie and Robbie. Like all of us, his children had their ups and downs. Annie was there with her boyfriend and 1 year old daughter. They were on the dole and Annie had a bit of a drug/gambling/theft problem. Never worked if they could avoid it. Easy to avoid when the government is handing you everything. Robbie was a hard worker though, doing well.
We all have similar stories. Prior and current marriages, kids, girlfriends. I have 4 boys, Nate, 42, has his doctorate in physics, married to a lovely girl. Nateâ€™s mom is still a sweet and beautiful woman. Len, 33, a great kid, mom is Inupiaq. Heâ€™s been in and out of jail and rehab. Shot his first polar bear when he was 13 and a fine fly fisherman. Heâ€™s on track now, back in school in Kotzebue. Carl, 26, never married but has 3 kids scattered around. His mom is half Nez Perce. Carl loves the juice. Chip off the old block. 5 to 10 in Goose Creek now for felon in possession of guns and drugs. Fuckin lucky I never did much time. Aurilio, 16, great boy so far, doing well in school in Anchorage and loves Brazillian Jiu-jitsu. 6â€™1â€ť, 175 already. Mom,Kariza, a guapa and but-an Pinay.
We arrived at Dalaguete in about an hour. Jim’s wife, Nia, had fresh brewed coffee and a beautiful maha blanca for the meeting. We sat in the open sala upstairs. Jim was upbeat and spoke about gratitude. Sick as hell with cancer but grateful. Jim has been sober 34 years. Got the message in Sing Sing, where he’d done a few years over a drunken tragedy. Bunch of ex drunks. We have some stories alright, our barkada.
We talked a bit about Father Quinlan Oâ€™Sullivan, who founded the Cebu group 25 years ago. He had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that week. Quinn was unshakeable and taking it with grace, like Jim. We love Quinn. Might sound like some sissified shit, but we all love each other. Not much hugging going on though, more of a â€śYou want a hug—get a fuckin teddy bearâ€ť group. We take each other’s inventories when we aren’t around. Most of us have been amigos for many years. All the ups and downs of life together. Sober life in the Philippines has
been great for all of us.
We left Jim’s after a couple hours. Jim was scolding Nia about the electric bill when we left. The opiates were making him a little grumpy. Like a couple hundred pesos is going to matter to him. He loves her though, and is building her a house on the lot next door. Nia is his seventh wife. Looks like she’ll be the last one. They’ve been fairly happy the last few years. He has the foundation and the first story blocked up. I hope he gets to finish it.
On the way back we stopped at the Triple B and had lunch. A nice bamboo and nipa place on a hill overlooking the beach. Run by a German. Great schnitzel and fried potatoes. The three waitresses were all lovely and that didn’t hurt the ambiante a bit. It had cleared up and we could see across to Panglao and Bohol, and way down to Siquijor. Paul had called in our orders from Jim’s so we were out of there a bit earlier than usual, but still a relaxing and pleasant lunch. We
rode to Sibonga with Paul and caught the bus from there to Cebu. It was a Rough Rider, non air-con. Blake and I got stuck in the very back spring board seats. My tail bone was killing me in a few minutes, otherwise a nice ride. Retiring from all those years of outdoor Alaskan work and now it hurts to sit on my ass. How’s that?
Got back to Cebu around 7:30 and walked over to Gaisano Metro for a snack. Mango shake and lumpia. I texted Gina but she was still with her oyab from Nevada. Said to please not textagain until she texted me first, coz he was very jealous. He’d bar fined her out of the Lone Star the week before, just after I’d met her, and now he was friggin’ jealous. I wasn’t jealous but I wanted to see her again. She’s 27, gorgeous and a pleasant girl to be around. You got what you
paid for with Gina. Not always the case with a bar girl.
Matt and I met in the Plaza at Fuente Osmena later that evening and sat on a bench watching the people suroy suroy. Men, women, kids, couples, families. Everyone smiling. Happy people. One afternoon last summer, my friend Nick had been sitting on a park bench in Anchorage and a couple punks asked him for a cigarette. Sucker punched and rolled him. Gave him the boots. Broke his nose and two ribs. And people ask me why I prefer the Philippines.
Several men were working on the new Fuente Christmas tree, supervised by a couple of bayots. Lullier always sponsors it, over a million pesos, different every year and always impressive. Those gays can be very artistic. Fuente would be lit up and full of joyful, friendly people through Christmas, New Years and Sinulog.
We walked down Ramos to Mattâ€™s about 10. I didnâ€™t feel like going to the hotel yet so I walked over to Mango square to listen to the outdoor band and ran into Rohani, a lovely Negrita from San Carlos, Negros Occidental. She has the most beautiful raven hair and sultry, Chinky
Iâ€™d met Rohani the year before. It turned out a nice evening with her and I forgot about Gina. Next day Bob said I was spoiling Rohani by giving her 1200 pesos for her kidâ€™s school supplies. I told him barato for a stunner like Rohani. She was proud to show me a picture of her 7 year old son in his school
uniform. A smiling and guapo boy. She loved the pictures of Aurillo in his jiu-jitsu gi that I had on my mirror. We enjoyed each other for a couple of hours. She liked me speaking Bisaya. She speaks Bisaya, Tagalog, Ilonggo and English. Bright girl. She couldn’t get past 6th grade though, because her family had no money.
Rohani and I went for bbq, puso, and hot Spanish bread on Sanciangko about 1 in the morning before she got the jeepney to Mambaling. When I got back in bed I could still savor her lovely Pinay scent. Lami tulog. Barato ba, barato.
We had a meeting on Thursday evening at Vanille, on the terraces at Ayala Mall. It’s a good place to meet but I’m not so wild about the terraces. Nice thing about Ayala is that itâ€™s not far from there to the Philippines.
I used to love eating outside in the evening at Cafe Laguna with Rose. We nearly always had sinigang hipon, along with escabeche, served with rice, pickled papaya and green mango shakes. The lights in the trees, the ponds, grass and waterfalls behind Ayala were softly romantic. Lots of couples suroy suroy there. Now they’ve put in the terraces and it’s so different. Some classy
restaurants, and Cafe Laguna is still there, but it seems more like sitting along the Champs Elysees now. Cafe Laguna was wonderful old Spanish Philippines before the terraces. Now thereâ€™s a Starbucks right next to it. Shit.
Things are always changing. We never thought Eddie’s Log Cabin would close. That was agreat place. We used to have lunch at Eddie’s every Wednesday. Eddie was a hell of a guy. Landed with MacArthur at Leyte and stayed on after the war. He died a couple years ago. He was married to the first Miss Philippines and had several other wives and lots of children in Cebu. He got along well with them all and many visited him there in the restaurant. He always had a smile and a few words for us.
All those years at lunch and no one ordered a drink. Eddie must have wondered about that but never mentioned it. Shortly after Eddie died they closed the place. There’s still a “Closed for renovation, open next month” sign on the door. It’s been there three or four years now. The uptown Eddies Hotel and Restaurant is nothing like the old place. OK lang, but just another
hotel. Things are always changing.
At the Saturday night meeting in the Redemptorist we had mango cake to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the group. Most of us, members for years, reminisced. Father Quinn started the First Cebu Group after 4 years of white knuckling and a slip, in which he’d had one drink from a
bottle of Tanduay in his room in the convento, just down the hall from the meeting room. Next morning he came to on the floor next to the empty rum bottle, soaked in piss. We joked that our group, like many, had been founded in a puddle of piss.
Quinn came in and shook all our hands. He had a firm grip, but looked pretty ill and said he was going to stay in Cebu till the end. He went back to Ireland 4 years ago when he had the throat cancer treated, same shit Iâ€™d had in the tonsil, and said he felt like an alien there except when he was talking with the Filipina nurses. He’s fluent in Bisaya and Tagalog. Way more Filipino than Irish now. Pinoy na lang, I guess. There werenâ€™t any Filipina nurses when I was in
Madigan Army Hospital but I had a hell of a surgeon, Colonel Douglas Sorensen. Saved my lifeâ€¦ So far, so good.
Quinn said there was not much to be done with the cancer, maybe some chemo. Fuckinâ€™ hell, that damn cancer. He was in good spirits. A fine man. I choked up a bit and had to go out into the hall alone. Itâ€™s not macho for a man to cry in the Philippines. Anywhere for that matter, in most cases. I noticed some others eyes were a bit red on the way out.
Eight of us went to Casa Verde for dinner after the meeting. It’s a beautiful old wooden Hacienda, built by a cane planter from San Remigio. Lots of mahagony, lauan and Mactan stone. Ornate architecture, with original capiz shell windows and richly lacquered beams. It was nearly full, so close to Christmas. We had to wait a few minutes but got a nice table in the garden. The lush, fragrant garden. From our table we could see the Crown Regency towering off a few blocks near Fuente. Casa Verde is on a hell of a valuable piece of real estate and we don’t want to see another hotel or condo put there.
Pavel, the little gay waiter, flitted about the table taking our orders. Everyone liked Pavel. He was always upbeat and a hell of a good waiter. He never forgot a name or an order. Most of us had shrimp tapas or Spanish ribs, the specialty. I had iced calamansi to drink. They always had fine calamansi in Casa Verde, got the sugar just right. Leche flan for dessert. Lami kaayo.
Ondo was lively and talkative. He used to be in the NPA. Drinking, raising hell, shooting up the province, but heâ€™s but-an now. Been sober four or five years. A macho and guapo guy. He was talking about Carmela, his oyab. Sheâ€™s a stewardess for Iberia Air. Just got her base transferred to Barcelona. I kind of wondered about that, but it didnâ€™t seem to bother Ondo a bit. He always had Maya, the secretary from his new call center business with him. She says her
tatay was a hell of a drunk. She sure isnâ€™t. Nursed one Kulafu through the whole meal and left half of it on the table. If I could drink normally like her Iâ€™d stay drunk all the time. Ondo and Maya were in the meeting at Vanille the week before, just back from a Christmas party. He was wearing a fine barong and Maya was in a lovely bistada. A classic Filipina beauty. I guess Ondo isnâ€™t too worried about Carmela in Barcelona. Carmela is a doll too. Mga guapa in Cebu.
Barry, the nutty professor, was whining on about quitting smoking with a lot of crap about us all praying for him. We were sick of hearing it. Connor, the newcomer from Northern Ireland, was trying to quit too. He has a hell of a brogue. Only sober for a month, but in and out for years. Aussie Jerry shut him up about the smokes.
â€śNo worries with the durries mate. Relax a couple years before ya think about laying off the smokes. If your house was on fire would ya be painting
the trim on the windows? Donâ€™t be a drongo. Just go to meetings and stay off the piss. Thatâ€™s your problem now mate, the fucking piss, not the smokes.â€ť
Jerry was a rough, tough old-timer from the Northern Territories. Connor seemed to like this straight talk and lit up. Outside of meetings we donâ€™t talk much about drinking, mostly finance and romance. Earl used to put it a little more bluntly: â€śLife is all about a buck and a fuck.â€ť
What a lot. Some malditos. Couldnâ€™t ask for a finer barkada. No bullshit about to how to stay sober. Take it or leave it. Matt and I walked down Ramos after dinner and said our goodbyes. A great amigo for so many years. I was flying to Alaska in the morning.
I cut over to Osmena Boulevard, walked the several blocks down to Santo Nino and lit a couple 50 centavo candles for my family and amigos. One each for Father Quinn and Jim too. Saved all their souls for 2 pesos, howâ€™s that? Bathala na.
I strolled through the night market on Colon. Oldest street in the Philippines. Lots of Muslim traders up from Zamboanga for Christmas and Sinulog. Mostly smuggled crap from Indonesia and China.
From the market, it was up through the bugaw gauntlet on Legaspi St. I canâ€™t stand a fucking pimp. A girl can always do better on her own and, if sheâ€™s smart, can often find a husband. What the hell, they sure meet lots of men. Once the black heart sets in though, theyâ€™re done. Most men can sense that quickly. The men that canâ€™t figure that out, usually drunks, wonâ€™t make good husbands anyway. Like I should be the judge of thatâ€¦
Over to Sanciangko and to bed. A very pleasant evening. That’s all any of us have. This day, this evening. Christ.