Verbal Ping-Pong no. 1: Party skills with Alice and Carlene

What kind of world do we live in where educated and good-looking young men throw around lines like, “Those shots are gonna get moldy if no one’s gonna drink them.” The worst part is the people throwing around lines like these are sober, there’s none of that “I hope I can have that line stricken from the record on account of ‘I was sooooo smashed’ that night”. Whatever. I don’t even know if it’s because guys are getting used to talking to dumb girls or guys are just getting dumb, or people in general are just dumb and social skills fall on the second or third tier in the grand scheme of things. I can blame it on bar talk I guess–I mean we WERE at a bar so what kind of conversation do you expect? Then again, it depends on the bar.

So Carlene and I found ourselves at Club Three-Sixty last night.



Yeah. And at the start of (and pretty much all throughout) the night, we find ourselves sitting across A, who smiles politely. A lot. In fact it seems like it’s all he’s capable of, smiling politely and nodding a lot, no matter how much you try to yank words out of his mouth. Words, people. Not even full coherent sentences.
“You sit next to him, he’ll kiss you.” my sister urges Carlene (oh yeah, my sister was here too).
And Carlene’s like “What?! Why would he do that?!” or something like that. To which my sister starts spewing random babble about how drunk Mr. A gets and how he just keeps kissing girls when he’s drunk. Last time I heard the whole, “You sit next to _____, he’ll kiss you!” line, I was 9. Boys still had cooties and we were all forgiven for having about as much intelligence as a reality show on Bravo. At this point, Mr. A has left the table and Carlene wants to go down to Bureau and dance, which we will only do if Bureau did not have a 500 Peso cover charge.

“I don’t know, maybe they’re not charging anyone to get in tonight, I mean it’s Thursday.”
Mr. A retakes his seat. So Carlene asks him,
“Hey A____, would you know if there’s an entrance fee at Bureau?”
A looks puzzled for a moment, then breaks into a HUGE grin.
“Like a cover charge, will we have to pay to get in?”
A keeps smiling.
“We want to go dancing…but not here. How much does it cost to get into Bureau?”
A is still smiling. After smiling some more, A finally looks like he’s about to say something:
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(if you’re this far along, your wish will come true. Money, women, zac efron, money, more money all coming your way after the jump)
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“Why?”
Oh. Your. God. A, we waited with bated breath, and we waited and waited, and we get not a simple yes or no, but it’s monosyllabic evil cohort: “Why?” Screw it. Carlene and I head downstairs where there is no cover charge (YAY!) but there is no dancing either(AAW). We make our way back up and A is still at the table being his usual loquacious self.

A opens his mouth and words come out, “Can I just say…” he stands up (or my memory’s failing me and trying to make things funny “HAHA” just because I was already depressed at this point) “that Irene is really pretty?” Irene is my sister, and yes she is pretty. I’ve gotten used to this as a standard ice breaker, right up there with “Can I just say…that this floor is really hard?” Well, yes A, you can say it, you can say it as much as you like, even if it’s a rather odd thing to say at this point, no matter how many times you turn it on its head. You could make a mad lib of the names and adjectives and it still comes out pretty awkward, but whatever, I’ll keep this line in mind next time I want to start a conversation: “Can I just say…that my abs are really tight?” No Alice, no they’re not.

Carlene and I agree.
“She is pretty!”
“We’ve seen her face, PRETTY!”
“She’s got brains, too.”
“We really like brains.”
My sister then goes on to make the universal sign for “brains” which is apparently two closed fists, side-by-side, held near the forehead. A___ then goes on to make the universal sign for “I cut my foot on a piece of glass and my shoe is filling up with blood” and disappears promptly.

Later, another guy comes to our table bearing shot glasses.
“You two have no reason not to get drunk tonight!”
How about that. “You two have no reason to get drunk tonight!” just happens to be my favorite line in the book. No it does not reek of stranger danger, which is what Carlene and I start yelling “Stranger danger! Stranger danger! That alcohol could be spiked with more alcohol!”. I should really learn to deal with serious issues in a way that does not include making light of them. Given the context however, this is a party, and shot glass guy is looming over us… it’s bordering on creepy. “Those shots are gonna get moldy if no one’s gonna drink them,” he says, because you know, a lot of distilled alcoholic beverages get wasted daily on account of mold. The statistics are staggering.
There are however reasons not to get drunk tonight, or any other night for that matter: chief among them being lucidity. I like being lucid mainly because I like being able to snap back to certain moments and remember words exchanged, good laughs, and wanting to give the right number to the right person for the sake of more words and more laughs. This is clearly not one of those nights. I take the shot, but unfortunately my tolerance isn’t that low and I still remember Mr. A, Stranger Danger, and how depressing the human race can get.

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I never really went there for the food


Bread Box was one of those rare restaurants where I was a regular without actually bothering to order food (although the fried sole fillet was spectacular). My relationship with the place wasn’t functional, I didn’t come there hungry. Funny thing was I never left hungry either because Tita Peng and Tito Ariel would still feed me whether or not I ordered anything.

The food was pretty steeply priced and they always had pictures of tempura and apple pie over the counter in spite of not actually serving the stuff. The first time I went there, they had a severe identity crisis. I walked in with my friend Adrian and he knew what he wanted, Pandesal with kesong puti and sardines. I was a newbie and didn’t know what to order, so after asking “What do you have?” Tita Peng just answered with “Well, what do you like?” Beautiful, right? Not exactly, at least not if you’re running a business because one of the cardinal rules of running a business is knowing your product.

But Bread Box wasn’t just any business, in fact it’s one of the first places I’ve ever been to that instilled the principle that I’ll only consistently support an establishment because I like the owners; and I really liked these guys. That first time, all I wanted was a charger for my phone, so being the jerk that I am that’s all I asked for; that and a Thai Iced Tea. They sent their waiter back to their apartment to get the charger just so I could have both. And that’s what kept me coming back. It was a lovely place with lovely food, but above all, it was run by lovely people who cared to ask how you were doing before taking your order. After that, I took to calling Tita Peng “Mommy” which she actually responded to for a good 3 months or so before I bothered asking for her real name.

On some days after work, I’d just drop by and hang with Peng and Ariel. I liked hanging with Ariel, even if the first 3 or so times that I did, I didn’t even know what his name was. Ariel was my bartender before I even started drinking (alcohol that is). You know how in sitcoms, there’s a clear and distinct bartender-patron relationship, where eventually the bartender starts counseling the poor drunken schmuck slumped over at the counter? That would be me and Ariel. Ariel used to work in the garments industry and soon became a repository for everything I had to gripe about, from my nasty teachers, to my internship, to my thesis, to my first job that had very little to do with garments.

This picture was taken sometime last year on the sidewalk outside Bread Box. I’m wearing a shirt with Mother Mary airbrushed on both the front and the back. Sometime before or after this picture was taken, Tita Peng came outside and–you cannot make this up–kissed me on the back. Coming from anyone else, it would have been creepy and somewhat intrusive, but coming from someone I called “Mommy” at the time, it was nothing short of sweet. “I really like this shirt.” was her reason for the odd gesture. “You can have it. I’ll just text you next time I plan to drop by.” Delighted, she went in to get her phone so we could exchange numbers. After punching in all 11 digits, that’s the first time I asked for her name because I already had a “Mommy” in my phonebook, “What’s your name Mommy?”
“Peng. Tita Peng na lang.”
But I still called her Mommy after that because it had already stuck.

It Happened in Your Neighborhood

I knew Alexis as the quiet guy, usually in the corner engrossed in academic journals, or to the side smiling politely while everyone else got thoroughly inebriated. I knew that much about him. Alexis was polite, never too obnoxious, never commanded any unnecessary attention, and yet he got it, mostly for his disproportionately large egg shaped head. My descriptions of him may be vague or inaccurate. I never really knew Alexis, but that shouldn’t matter.

I knew Alexis loved film, everybody knew that. He was a regular at all the film fests, eventually organizing his own screenings followed by lectures, anything to get the word out on what he loved and what he was devoted to. Someone who’s seen that many movies must be inundated with all manners of endings to project onto how he envisioned his own fate. Alexis was a film critic and a teacher; and as much as films are open to myriad layers of academic discourse, at the end of it all films are repositories for memory and all the world’s knowledge about people and their lack of control over the plot.

The plot we were handed involves laying gentle flesh open to the whims of an often cruel and unfair world, but any film enthusiast/lover/cineaste will tell you that the best part is not knowing what the next frame contains. The most anyone can do is try to take the reins on whatever role they were forced into, and this is something I always admired about Alexis and the people like him, the people I tagged in this note. Alexis followed his bliss regardless of who else supported or believed in it. The passion and commitment he poured into every aspect of his work testify to how tightly he held the reins on his role, how strongly he believed in making a contribution to a plot over which he had no control to begin with.

The part I hate most about this story is the familiar ring it still holds. I opened facebook and saw most of you cursing the world, asking what the hell it’s coming to bringing multiple deaths this close to your backyard. First Tara, now Alexis and Nika. I wasn’t a very close friend to any of them, I only met them in passing at large gatherings peppered with chit chat and drunken banter, but really: how far from you does a murder have to take place before it becomes real?

Or rather how close will you allow it to get. How close and how often before I stop telling myself to “suck it up, it’s the Philippines.” This is not how the plot has to work. These are not consequences we have to deal with.

A friend and I were talking about running, literally running like as a routine for weight loss and health reasons. The friend said he saw running not as an exercise, but as a function of a situation over which you have no actual control–“like being chased by a lion”. I remember thinking at first, “That’s stupid, there are no lions in L.A.” Only to realize later that we weren’t really talking about lions then, were we?