Showing posts from September, 2018

Goodbye, yellow brick road

I didn't grow up listening to Elton John. He was already a big star when I was born, but the first grown-up songs I listened to were from vinyl records my parents, both born in the early 1950s, had in our record player. It was mostly music from The Carpenters, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, and Peter, Paul & Mary.

What I did grow up with, as far as Sir Elton John is concerned, is this line, forever carved into the road in front of our house, under the streetlight: "GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD."

For as long as I can remember, it has always been there, a curious phrase I'd stumble upon every now and then--first, in my younger years, when I had friends to play with in the streets; these days, when I occasionally venture out into the world and pause to look at my feet.

At first I didn't know it was a line from an Elton John song. I initially thought it was merely a The Wonderful Wizard of Oz reference, and I wondered about the boy--I just assumed it was a boy around my age--who dared write the words in wet cement and managed to not leave a single footprint. We had read the same book; if I we met, would we become friends?

When I was a little older, I started imagining it was a message from someone who knew the truth about our neighborhood: that underneath the rough concrete, made even rougher by tiny potholes and bits of dried cement left over from various house extension projects, was an actual golden road that led to the magical Land of Oz. They, whoever they were, had covered it up so nobody could find it, and yet one of them wrote the line so somebody magical--hopefully, me--would.

But then I grew up and the Internet happened, and one day, I typed the words in my computer and learned it was an Elton John song. Or maybe I grew up and videoke happened, and one day, I heard someone singing the words, recognized them, and discovered they were from an Elton John song.

I'm not really sure anymore how I made the connection. But even after I did, it took me a while to really listen to the song, and an even longer while--only tonight, in fact, when I was taking notes for a short story I am trying to write--to paint in my mind another picture of the person who may have written it.

He must have been one of the workers who built the road in the late 70s or early 80s, the period our subdivision was carved out from grassland and sold in lots to people who came in from a scattering of elsewheres.

He may have wanted to leave a mark on the product of his heavy labor. Instead of writing his name or the name of someone he loved on the drying cement, he must have settled on a line from his favorite song.

Listening to the song now, I wonder: Was he being quite literal, saying goodbye to the road, to the construction project, to the temporary job?

Or was he really feeling the song, wishing he had stayed on the farm, listened to his old man? Was he planning to go back to his plough? Had he finally decided that his future lay beyond whatever was his personal yellow brick road?

How much do you love me?

This morning, I asked my niece Kiara how much she loved me. "Eleven times," she said. "Only eleven?" I asked, and she said, with finality, yes.

I normally tease her until she gives me a bigger number, but she is four now, developing a mind of her own, and I decided to accept what she was willing to give.

This afternoon, as I was walking away from their house after dropping her off, she ran to the window and called out, "Auntie Dat!" "Yes?" I shouted back.

"I love you one hundred two times!" she shouted from the top of her tiny lungs, so loud the entire block could hear, "I miss you! I love you!"

The summer I learned sign language

When I was 16, I learned American Sign Language from a deaf guy named Larry, who was then a student at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde. We were in Ozamiz, holding summer workshops at ICC-La Salle.

It's still one of my best summers, for many reasons, one of which involves a ghost encounter!

Larry wasn't supposed to teach ASL, but he volunteered to teach us. We finished all 12 modules, and I was amazed at how, as Larry taught us his language, he became more and more colorful in my eyes. He was a wonderful teacher, strict and funny and a little naughty when we were more fluent.

I found learning the signs easy, but I struggled with interpreting them in conversation, so after that summer, I forgot pretty much everything, except the name he gave me: the letter D, for my nickname Dat, dotting both my chubby cheeks.

Actually, he gave me two names: the letter D moving down in waves for my curly hair or the letter D on my cheeks. He smiled when we settled on cheeks, and I was just relieved he wasn't referring to my pimples!

I saw Larry in CSB last year, but he didn't see me. I wanted to say hi or hello (I still know how to sign that!), but I hesitated and the hesitation won.

Might as well, I told myself as I walked away. How on earth could I ask him if he remembered me, and if he didn't, how on earth could I tell him how he once spent several days in Ozamiz, silently changing how I saw the world?

Happy birthday, Stephen King, and how's the next book going, Mr. Martin?

While posting about Stephen King's birthday, I wandered into George R.R. Martin's Facebook page, wondering why I couldn't tag it the way I was able to tag King's. I scrolled down his timeline and found a throwback picture of GRRM as a zombie chewing on one of his books.

One comment said it was a scene from the future, when the "Winds of Winter" would have already been released. Someone else replied, "Never gonna happen."

I felt my heart break a little at the thought. I can't imagine not ever finishing reading "A Song of Ice and Fire," especially with the way the last season of Game of Thrones was written, despite its recent Emmy wins.

I got into ASOIAF very late, but I fell fast and hard. I'd never been into medieval epic fantasies before, but GRRM pulled me in completely. It was a whirlwind affair that brought back the geek in me.

But I guess this is how to love. We get to enjoy the ride, with no guarantees of an ending.

"For remember"

It was my second year in UP. While I was walking to the jeepney stop after a late afternoon class, two Korean men stopped me and talked to me, with a hint of urgency and desperation, in Korean. They'd been trying to catch the attention of other UP students, and none had given them the time of day until I came along, looking, at least in their eyes, all Korean-like.

Seriously, for some reason, they thought I was Korean. I know this because they kept saying, "You Korean? You Korean?"

They were disappointed to find out I wasn't. I felt bad for them, and my messianic complex kicked in, so I stayed to talk, even if it was getting dark. They barely spoke English, but I somehow understood they had gone straight to UP Diliman from the airport, left their bags at the kiosk across CAL, and started looking for somebody to help them find a place to stay. They were in UP to take English classes.

I couldn't get any more information beyond that, so I brought them to the College of Education, where they said the classes would be held. I had also seen posters in both Korean and English looking for Korean boarders. There was a name of a contact person at Educ and the phone number of the boarding house.

When we got to Educ, the person wasn't there or was busy, so I asked to use the phone instead. I called the boarding house, asked for any Korean available to come to phone, then handed the phone to the two men. They were so relieved to be able to explain their predicament to someone who could understand, and they were given directions to the boarding house. Good thing, too, because by the time we were done, it was dark.

I quickly walked them back to the kiosk, where, to my relief, I discovered that several students (either members of the UP Mountaineers or a frat) had watched over their things without having been asked. The Koreans and I exchanged names, and they asked for my contact details. We didn't have cellphones back then, but I gave them my home number.

They wrote down their names and home addresses in my notebook, all in Korean. Then, they gave me Korean coins. I didn't want to accept their money, but they were insistent. "For remember," one of them said, as the other tried to explain to me the conversion rates.

I thought that was the end of that.

A few months later, I heard from them--specifically from the guy who said "for remember." It probably wasn't the first time he called, but it was the first time he managed to leave me a message asking me to call their boarding house.

At first I didn't want to--I was shy--but then Filipino hospitality kicked in, and so I did. His English was better. He said they wanted to meet me and treat me to dinner.

It was quite a stretch for me, but I agreed to meet them outside the UP Film Center. I was expecting to have a quick catch-up at The Chocolate Kiss, but they wanted to go to SM North, eat at McDonald's, and watch a movie. Before I could explain that I actually wasn't very familiar with SM North, they flagged a taxi, and off we went.

They reintroduced themselves to me with their English names, names they'd chosen for their English class. The one who had invited me out said his new name was Rocky. When I asked him why, he acted out shooting a machine gun like Sylvester Stallone. The other guy was simply Michael.

We had a fun dinner, during which they told me their ages (if I remember correctly, Rocky was 24 and Michael was 27). They were studying again. Michael was taking up mechanical engineering; Rocky, business. They'd just completed mandatory military service. They didn't have wives or girlfriends.

Watching the movie, on the other hand, was kind of awkward. They didn't understand most of it. We watched Disney's "Peter Pan," if I'm not mistaken, and I can't remember why it was showing; it wasn't even new. We entered the cinema halfway through the movie, and they didn't know that we could stay to watch the first half. As soon as credits rolled, they stood up to leave, and I was too late to tell them we could stay.

As we walked outside SM North, Rocky asked if I could give him English lessons. I said I couldn't, because I had no idea how to teach English and I felt that I would be a terrible English teacher. You'll find a much better teacher in UP, I told him. Then I said goodbye.

I think I heard from him at least one more time, before I was swallowed into an organization called UP Quill. After that, I never saw or talked to them again. I didn't think about them much either, but for years I kept their coins, wrapped in a piece of paper with their real names in Korean and their addresses in Seoul.

Funny, because I didn't think anything of him then, but thinking about Rocky now, I feel like I missed something worth exploring, something that may or may not have been love.

Dream: The one that I let get away

I dreamt that I was at an old house that we'd converted into some sort of headquarters for work, and an English man dropped by with his five-year-old adopted son. The man was Neil Gaiman, maybe 10 to 15 years younger. He was also single.

The little boy was cute and playful, and I watched over him as Neil and my colleagues did some work together. I overheard interesting bits and pieces of their conversation, and I joined in.

Soon the two of us were bantering, and I was being extra witty (and also very cute, since this is my dream after all) despite his very English humor (and Aussie accent; I realize I don't know what the real Neil Gaiman sounds like).

"You guys should start dating," one of my colleagues said, "You seem to have amazing chemistry."

I said no way, but only because I was mortified. I mean, this was still work and hello, this was Neil Gaiman.

He grinned at me and said, "Do you want to bet that it won't work out between us?" I was confused, so I responded with a laugh. "Let's make a bet--give me your number," he said.

I laughed again, still confused. When I didn't budge, he asked for it again. "Oh, you were serious?" I asked. He smiled flirtatiously, and I was a little dizzy as I entered my number in his phone.

Then he and his son said goodbye to us, because they needed to get breakfast. He gave me one last look and signaled that he'd call me. As they walked away, I was thinking, "Oh my god, is Neil Gaiman going to be my boyfriend?"

My colleague told me to go after them. I said no. I had work, and I didn't want to rush things. But we did watch them walk away.

Outside the old house was a movie theater. A long queue had already formed for some big Hollywood movie. A beautiful woman in the middle of the line recognized Neil and ran after them to introduce herself.

She asked how he was finding the Philippines, then asked him where he was going next. He said he and his son were off to look for breakfast. She said she knew the perfect place and described how to get there and how good the food was.

"Would you care to join us?" Neil asked.

The woman did, never mind that she already had a movie ticket. I watched them walk away.

"This is why you are single," the narrator in my dream said.