Let you be a person. You are a person, you have a body. If you are a person and you have a body, you have a name. You have a secret.
Because I thought, Hey, you’ll be reading this, By 2050 or whatever Hawking said, After you’ve defeated all the humans and whatnot,
It is Thursday, August 16, 2012. There is nothing particularly special about this day but it is a day in the life and sometimes that’s enough. Almost two years ago to the day, I entered a passageway through an Airbus A300 and we 146 Peace Corps volunteers flew from one assassinated leader to another: John F. Kennedy International Airport to Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Manila, Philippines.
On the outskirts of the city at the edge of a subdivision called Bliss, Tacloban City Convention Center pokes into the bay. A big silo of a thing, concrete, stadium seating for a couple three or four thousand, ringed by two levels of commercial units which consist of half a dozen disco-slash-videoke bars, a few pretentious restaurants, a full-function fitness center. They call it the Astrodome. On your jeep ride call out “Astro” for short.
After weeks of rain April came, and with it, the Filipino sun. Even very late in the afternoon one Wednesday, a warm breeze skirted the Eastern Visayas State University and equatorial rays seared the treetops. The semester over, the campus was nearly deserted. But in one classroom on the first floor of the silent Science building sat an American, alone in the front row of wooden desks. He wore a form-fitting polo and dark skinny jeans. Well-worn sneakers. A few days’ dark beard clothed his jowls. He hunched over a Peace Corps-issued green notebook, studying Tagalog. His name, Kurt.
“Anyone know where my installation’s supposed to go?”
As my departure date approached, I was all too aware that the Philippine history, literature, facts, and figures I was studying would be about as useful in my day-to-day Peace Corps work as a PhD at a Super Bowl party. But I persisted. Mostly out of a desire to know, but also out of a desire not to look like an idiot: a friend had recently claimed that the Philippines was below the equator; I was fairly sure it was above but not sure enough to dispute.
During the year before my Peace Corps Philippines departure, I’d wandered the country from Los Angeles to Taos to Houston to New Orleans and finally to Brooklyn, where I spent the summer moving from sublet to sublet: hipster Williamsburg, Polski Greenpoint, industrial-wasteland Bushwick.
The first Filipino film I ever saw, which I saw only 2 months before my arrival in the country, was a 2006 thriller titled Cavite. Cavite is the name of a province just south of Manila which Wikipedia describes as an "historic, picturesque and scenic province providing a place conducive to both business and leisure."
Through my teen years, which coincided with that liminal period between the heyday of text-adventures and the rise of MMOs, a period I am convinced history will remember as the golden era of videogames, I did my share of gamewhoring. For a long time afterward I regretted the hours, days, weeks spent in blistery-eyed self-obsessed wanton youth. More recently though, I have made peace with the past and now I view it with something like nostalgia.
It was two months till my departure for the Philippines and I was biding my time in Brooklyn while writing my first novel and learning Tagalog and living off the savings of three years teaching college writing. New York had just turned southern-summer humid, an effect that made the center of the urban universe feel only that much more real--intensified the feel of taxicab smog, the stink of subway urine--and I loved it.
originally published on the dirtcakes journal blog, 7 May 2010.
"How many people here from Nawlins?"
Because you couldnt see through the blinds and it had a solid white door like you never see in restaurants and you obviously couldnt see through that neither. I dont know. Maybe thats why.
You start at Big Man Lounge where everyone’s gathered in the street listening to the ReBirth Brass Band, which is a guy rigged with a marching drumset, two trombones, a bari sax, a sousaphone chugging along on a debaucherous walking bass, three trumpets already squealing the high stuff even though the walk hasn’t started, and being a trumpeter yourself you wonder how the hell they’re going to keep that up for the three and a half miles to Diva’s Lounge, not even factoring the syrup air and sun.
“Lets just go, okay?”
Look. I don’t know why I kept going to Asian places.
It was straight across from the only McDonalds in town. I don’t know. Maybe that’s why…