Sunday, 6 May 2018

I Remember It Well

I Remember It Well
By Konted

"Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time;
it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable."
-- Sydney J Harris

From a hammock tied to Java Plum trees, I was watching a light plane hovering around the Sierra Madre. My mind suddenly wandered to a summer day in 1966 when our high school class took an early morning flight to Legaspi City in Albay en route to Gubat in Sorsogon for a week-long vacation.

No, it was not the turbulence the DC-3 encountered midway that I remembered. No, it was not the beach volleyball game our spikers played against a tough team bannered by movie stars Troy Donahue, Ricardo Montalban and Katharine Ross  that I recalled. It was something else that a 16 year old lad would remember for the rest of his life.
- Konted


Riding The Red Classic Bus

           It was sunny and bright that day, with the sun's rays striking the surface of the bronze bell of the ancient church of Gubat in Sorsogon. The voice of Chito Villarroya's father was still ringing in my ears: “Okay, gentlemen, time to board the bus." Chito's father was a good host and he pampered us in all the days we spent in Sorsogon.

           Oh, yes, the country roads were good roads--well paved, clean and hassle-free. Everybody was enjoying the final ride to Legaspi City on board that red classic bus as nature unfolded its drama at every turn or bend. Enthralling sights, amazing natural wonders, fresh and gentle winds. Beautiful Sorsogon.

Hatching A Plan At The Old Imperial Hotel

           From the windows of Imperial Hotel, one could see the silhouette of majestic Mount Mayon with its supposedly perfect cone veiled in early evening mist. I was feeling jittery as Johnny Mangalindan was hitting the bowling pins with accurate shots.

           And my restlessness was for a reason. That night was supposed to be an extra ordinary night for the six (6) of us. The plan was to stage a daring 'slip out' and this was to be executed, of course, in all secrecy. Smooth and swift. Quiet and unsuspicious.

           That night was to be a rite of passage for me. A passage to manhood, so I was told. Never mind the rules. Never mind higher authorities. Just once and everything would be back to normal.

Gang of Six

           And who were the six who concocted the grand plan? Manny King and Manny Nicolas were the brains. Johnny Mangalindan was to be the negotiator. Bobbit Pangilinan, who was swearing that he had passed the initiation stage, was really looking for a goodtime. But I was doubting Bobbit's claim that night. I really felt that it was only his first time. Anyway, and I was to be the main bout of the evening. I was only 16.

           Okay, let us count: Manny K, Manny N, Johnny, Bobbit and Ted. That's five. Who then was the sixth (6th) man? Completing the cast was Aster Aquino. Actually, Aster was not part of the original 'schemers'. It so happened that Aster was standing at the main entrance of Imperial Hotel when the sneak-out was staged. He was sensing something was going on that he kept on pestering me with " saan kayo pupunta? Sama ako." And in that kind of situation, prudence dictated that six (6) would do no harm as Aster might squeal on us. Make way, make way!

Legaspi City In Days Of Yore

           Legaspi City then was a tranquil place with weary travelers contented with sipping coffee at balconies of old hotels. There were just enough vehicles plying the Daraga-Legaspi route and when dusk fell, travels to and from nearby towns were very limited with the last trip usually scheduled at 6pm.

           In those days, Legaspi City was the premier city of Bicolandia. No other town or municipality could get close to it as it was the most progressive and the most visited. Boasting a first class domestic airport and first class lodging inns, it was synonymous to Mount Mayon but in reality, the cone-shaped volcano is located in the towns of Camalig, Daraga and Tabaco in Albay.

           Sad to say that Legaspi City is losing its magic as progress and population boom have rapidly altered its natural beauty and the quaintness that best characterized it in the old days is slipping away. I witnessed this change when I passed by Legaspi City several years ago on my way to Tacloban City via Matnog, Allen and San Juanico Bridge. Back to the 60s.

Hailing A Taxicab

           A few meters from the hotel, we hailed a taxicab, squeezed ourselves in and as agreed upon, Johnny negotiated with the taxi driver, telling him of our intent. An image of a sweet barrio lass was on everyone's mind and this too was relayed to the driver cum pimp. It took us only about 5 minutes to reach an apartment-type dwelling near the city market. Per Johnny, the arrangement was for us to pick two girls from an array of whores playing cards at a round table with a lamp dangling at the middle. Typical red house setting with the ladies puffing cigarettes. 
           We had to contend with the two ladies recommended by the taxi driver. I have been trying hard to recall their faces but my memory fails me. My vague recollection is that they were plain looking gals, perhaps in their early twenties and definitely not the sweet barrio lass that most of us were looking for. Apparently making excuses, the cab driver kept on saying that the good ones were taken out earlier. There were no further arguments and negotiations had begun.

Reaching An Agreement

           It would be a three-on-one arrangement -- three would be assigned to one girl and the other three to the second girl. No, it was not meant to be an orgy. It was one-after-the other arrangement. This was the cab driver's proposition to which no one opposed. And yes the venue would be in a private house. Again, this was appreciated and accepted. Then came the last stage of the bargaining. And it was the most important one. Remember that it was Johnny M doing the haggling with Aster listening intently. 

           "Magkano ba ?" was Johnny's short query of which the driver had a short reply. Now before I tell you the asking price of the driver, I want you to hold on to your seat. Or better yet, hold on to something steady. Perhaps you won't believe this now and would say that I am not serious. That I am fooling you. Oh no, don't say that.

Sentimental Trip To Gubat

           On that return trip from Tacloban via Matnog and Allen three years ago, we passed by Sorsogon City and at the main junction of that capital city, I noticed a road signage indicating that Gubat was only 10 kilometers away. I was telling my companions that I was in this place many decades ago. A long time ago. And i begged the driver to please divert to that highway leading to Gubat. "For what?” asked the driver and I answered that it was simply for sentimental reasons.

           It took us only about 20 minutes to reach Gubat and I noticed that the old church where we stayed had undergone renovation and had lost that quaintness associated with ancient churches. Still the town has the semblance of its old self, with old trees still visible along the main road. Gubat, which is a coastal town facing the Pacific Ocean, is now a progressive town, yet it has kept that magic which has lured a thousand travelers to its white sand beaches. It is no wonder that Gubat and its neighboring towns are collectively called the "Gems of the South." Back to the 60s.

Agreed Price

           Recalling it now, the agreed price was P12. Yes, P12 per head. That was reasonable then, considering that the cost of gasoline per liter was 30 cents. For 3 pesos, you would have 10 liters of Boron or Flying A. And the prevailing price at the notorious massage clinics in Grace Park, Caloocan City was P25. We thought then that P12 was really a bargain. 

           And for most of us in the group, money was not a problem as we scooped all the money on the gambling table the night before through Johnny's quick hands. We pooled our bills and coins together and made Johnny the card dealer all night long and he made sure that our cards were no lower than 7 or 8. How could we lose?

           Without further hassle, we motored to a house about a kilometer away and it turned out to be the house of the cab driver. I remember him knocking and shouting to his wife to get up at once as there was some business to be done.

           And there were two rooms where the action was to take place. Manny K, Manny N and Ted were assigned to the bigger room which had a thin plywood and partly interwoven bamboo splits as wall divider. Johnny M, Bobbit and Aster took the other room. To my surprise, the driver asked me to go in first while saying: "hwag kang kabahan" as he noticed that I was becoming restless. 'Okay', I replied while trying to put up a brave front. And as I was about to enter the room, with all eyes on me, I made a sudden turnaround and said to the group: "Mamaya na lang ako." Everybody laughed.

Recent Trip To Tabaco In Albay

           From that sentimental journey to Gubat 3 years ago, our group made a spur-of-the-moment decision to take a side trip to Tabaco, Albay passing through the safe side of Mt. Mayon. I say safe side as Tabaco is usually spared from the periodic wrath of Mt. Mayon as lava normally flows downward the side of Daraga and Camalig. Tabaco has retained its old charm while progressing through its busy port where commercial sea vessels dock to load and unload commercial products. It was a delight to see an old PNB building, an old post office, an old municipal hall and an old barber shop.  Reminiscent of the old world.

           After a dip at the clear and refreshing waters of a stream where big rocks abound, we opted to spend the night at a hotel in the town proper. Manila was still ten hours away and the black Starex van needed some time to cool off. We had yellow fin tuna, roasted chicken and steaming rice for dinner in a cozy restaurant with a view of the dimly lit town plaza where hawkers still were doing business. You felt you were in another world, in a distant land where life was simpler, where you were confident that you were away from harm's way. Hey, hey, I am drifting...... the 60s. 

Start Of Game

           It took Manny K a little bit more than 20 minutes to do business and he did it with much confidence as if he was just brushing his teeth. After all, he was the veteran and had been engaged in numerous similar encounters before.  Now, if Manny K consumed a mere 20-minute playing time, it took Manny N. double that time as he put up some foreplay. He did it step by step. How did we know? All throughout, Aster was busy peeping through a gaping hole near the door hinges and was relaying to us the heated action inside. In the other room, Johnny and Bobbit did their business in the normal fashion but I had no time to inquire about their experience as my turn was about to come. And in between rounds, the gals would take time out to go to the sheila to wash and rest for a few minutes. Then it was back to business.

            Oh, there were two things I forgot to tell you. Being the only first timer in the group, the cab driver gave me a special package deal very much like the buy-one-take-one scheme. For the price of P 12, I would get the chance to screw one and screw the other, to which I readily gave my nod. The other thing I forgot to tell was that Aster, wanting to hold on to his money for a last minute souvenir buying spree the next morning, backed out at the last minute. The cabbie couldn’t do anything about it.

Main Bout Of The Evening

           Now my turn finally came. I was the last as most in the group were done and were smoking Salem near the stairs, exchanging notes of what transpired. Anticipating that Aster would do his peeping role again, I hung my shirt just where the gaping hole was. Knowing that I was a neophyte, Lady A asked me to sit at the edge of the bed as she started to hold my dipstick. To which she succeeded in stimulating. No, she was not the aggressive type. I touched her firm breasts as she lay naked and after several minutes, I began mounting on her. 

          As I mounted, she took my thing and guided it to where it should be. Then as I pressed, I began noticing that it was too wet and that there was hardly any friction that I could feel. Just the same I slammed it in and slammed it out. And after several strokes, the dam burst. It was all over and I started dressing up. The main event featuring a 16-year old boy was done with. 

           Just as I stepped out of the room, the cab driver motioned for me to go inside the next room as Lady B was waiting. It was supposed to be another round with another lady which was part of the special package deal.
But in all honesty, I told the cabbie that I was totally spent and would it be possible that Aster instead should take my place? To everybody's surprise and to Aster's delight, the cabbie said yes and Aster quickly entered the room and in just a few minutes, he was finished. He came out of the room still neatly dressed, his shirt tucked in and, of course, his hair still well combed and unruffled. Typical Aster Aquino. 

           We got back to the hotel and found out that nobody noticed anything unusual. We proceeded to our assigned beds and it was lights out for everybody. The plan was executed to perfection. Great!!

The Morning After

          Now my story does not end there. The next morning, I was summoned, together with Johnny M, by Manny K and Manny N.  Fearing that we could have the dreaded gonorrhea or any other STD, we were asked to buy Penbid, a noted antibiotic then.

          The drugstore was at the opposite side of our hotel and as we crossed the street, we repeatedly were uttering "Penbid...Penbid... Penbid...", so as not to forget the brand name. Just as the sales clerk approached us, I immediately said to the lady: "Pagbilan nga ng Pen....". At that juncture, as I was saying PEN, our class adviser, Mr. Umali, darted from nowhere and said: “Good Morning,  Mangalindan, Good Morning, Gener....something wrong with you two?"  We were stunned by Mr. Umali's presence but managed to regain our composure and replied: "Slight headache, Sir."' then turned again to the lady sales clerk and said: "Pagbilan nga ng Cortal."

           We then proceeded to a nearby grocery store where we waited for Mr. Umali to leave. When everything cleared up, we bought six (6) Penbids and reported back to the group. We took one capsule each, feeling assured that there would be no gonorrhea for all of us. And as it turned out, the girls were really clean and were STD-free.

        That same day, the whole class flew back to Manila and that was the last time I saw my close friend Johnny M. I later learned that he and Manny N. attended college at the University of the Philippines. Manny K, Bobbit P. and this writer enrolled and graduated at the De La Salle University at Taft, Manila.  As for Aster, I do not know his whereabouts. This is the sad part of high school life. You suddenly go your own separate ways. You chase dreams. You pursue chosen endeavors in life. Once cohesive, now disintegrated, so to speak.

Fragments of Yesteryear

           During that trip to Tabaco City, Albay, three years ago, a small watering hole caught our attention and we decided, as our final activity for the day, to wash down the heavy sumptuous dinner we had with a few rounds of ice-cold beer. San Mig Lite of course. The place had an ambiance good for conversation and with a songbird to entertain you. She had a shapely body all the more enhanced by the slit on her dress, revealing her fair skin. And yes, she was endowed with a face that could launch a thousand ships. Though she had a wide variety of songs, she had the penchant for Shirley Bassey and Mary Hopkin's songs.

          Though I have stopped drinking 17 years ago due to recurring peptic ulcer, I still frequent bars and grills as I enjoy the company of old friends and find delight in listening to old songs. Between songs, the group had fun recollecting the interesting places we visited and the nice people we encountered. The Cagsawa Ruins. The Tiwi Geothermal Hot Spring.  The Matnog jetty where teen-aged boys dived for coins thrown into the deep, clear waters of Sorsogon Bay. Lake Buhi.  The abaca weavers of Albay. The fishermen of Bulan and the copra dealers of Guinobatan. And the dried-fish traders of Pioduran. Places and people strange and unique in their own ways.

          The merriment continued and a few minutes after ten,  when everybody was feeling tipsy and just as I had my 7th bottomless iced tea, I begged to leave early as the long hours and distance of travel had begun exacting its toll on my aging body. Pinning the peso bills representing my share of the tab with an ember-colored San Miguel ash tray, I stood up, pocketed my cellphone and headed for the exit. But as it turned out, the timing was wrong. As I got to the large aquarium showcasing a silver arowana, the chanteuse began belting out a very familiar song with very familiar lines: “Once upon a time, there was a tavern…where we used to raise a glass or two…remember how we laughed away the hours...”

        It was a nice song. A Mary Hopkin song. And the pretty songstress was doing justice to the song. With big gold earrings dangling, she was gyrating and had the crowd on its feet. Call it showmanship. Call it audience impact. She had them join her: “Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end….we'd sing and dance forever and a day…we'd live the life we choose, we'd fight and never lose…for we were young and sure to have our ways.” As I stood there watching, time reverted to the distant past, to the happy and care-free days of my youth.

          I was now having second thought whether to leave or to stay. Finally, I reckoned that I needed a long rest. I was the assigned driver for the next day trip to Manila and Manila was still some 500 kilometers away. I began walking back to the hotel which was just a few meters away. All was quiet by that time at the town plaza. The hawkers had gone. And the gate of the old church had been closed. I took one last look at the old municipal hall and finally called it a day.

         Upon reckoning, it was worth the time and the trouble. For I got the chance to piece together what I call fragments of yesteryear. Memories of my high school days. It was a time when I looked at the world as a big and wide one and full of surprises. Life was beautiful then. Today, whenever I look back, I always opt to remember the good times. Mabalos!!

- Kon Ted