Alex Maskara

Thoughts, Stories, Imagination of Filipino American Alex Maskara

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Barrio Tales

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Four Students


Migratory Bird (circa 2005)

Migratory Bird *(circe 2005)

You are not probably interested with his story, the story of Miguel that is. It is not full of laughter or philosophy or life-altering lessons. It is written in poor English, broken English like his heart. You know what a broken heart is. It is weeping with blood. And the blood goes to the brain and the brain becomes crazy. All that sad blood is dirty. He gets rid of it by drinking. Wine will remove dirt from his brain. Wine will remove everything from his brain. Memory and reality will temporarily go away.

Sometimes it is difficult to understand his English, but don't worry, you'll get it, it will not hurt you if you keep hearing him repeating himself, you understand? His English is learned from his fellow orange pickers in the groves, picked up from hookers and pimps, from bars serving cerveza negra and Taco Bell. It is mixed with adoring the Lord Jesus Christ. And calling home using a prepaid phone card. Hola, my life is fine, Teresita.

Miguel is standing inside a phone booth by the side of the road, dressed like a farmer ready to cultivate the entire continent. For real you say? Yeah, for real. He is holding the receiver against his ear, unmindful of the cars passing by whose drivers are either unaware of his existence or aware of his non-existence. Ay caramba!

He once came to this country well dressed with good manners and a lot of confidence. Now he is reduced into this: wearing clothes bought from Salvation Army. Who really wants to see him in the USA dressed as handsomely as he used to be in the old country? Who wants to see him at all, standing by the roadside looking at every driver, eyes asking, "Do you have a job for me?”

And all the odd jobs he does - less than minimum wage - lifting, pushing, shoveling, cultivating, digging, planting, cementing, cleaning, washing - what else is left? Every kind of labor he does. Everything except what he did professionally in his country.

He was an Accountant back home. But jobs back home aren't worth anything.

You see, you can have some decent things in your home country - education, love, romance, respect, dignity, honor, history, friendships - but without money, all fall to pieces. He has no home here, no family, he doesn't even understand every English word spoken. But that doesn't matter because he's got muscles, quietness, servitude that make him won't react even if poked, spat at, cussed at, treated like shit, which at the end, for real, at the end, earns him dinero. Yeah dolares for real. Money, that's what's important. Everything else can wait, you know, it doesn't matter how he is treated in Gringo-land. Who cares about all that when he earns dinero, solamente dinero? At least, he can feed himself and his family.

Miguel replaces the receiver back on the hook. He turns his eyes at the long winding road that is kept clean. Thanks to workers like him, America is very very beautiful.

Everyday, cada dia, he is learning more about the Gringo system. And he can't help but notice how hard work is awarded here. There is no low-class job here as long as you pay taxes(but he is still an illegal) and commit no public scandal and crime(so far). In Gringo-land, you can do your business and no one would bother you. So long as you follow the rules. So he will be here - weeks, months, years, even for eternity - until he becomes one of the Gringos. A Gringo who pays taxes. A Gringo treated as equal.

Ah, this plastic card, this phone card will someday turn into a real American Express card. Or Visa. Or Discover. Or Mastercard. How can he get there from here?

Miguel sits by the side of the road, mapping his plot. He can marry a Gringa. Or, he can be lucky and be given a 'legal pardon' for a politician's political points. He can study in an American school and become a Nurse like Filipinos. He can start a landscaping business and apply for a 'business visa'. He can...oh why does it all sound so near to impossible?

Today, he can't even find anybody to hire him. But is this what life is for him? Born in a poor country, gravitating toward a promising country. Will life be like this forever? Scheming, plotting, planning on a goal as simple as becoming another Gringo? He is a migratory bird, that's all he is. He flies to where abundance is, and if the abundance is permanent, he tries to become one of the native birds.

How long will he acquire the plumage of the local birds, to fly like them, live like them, lay eggs like them? Ah, these things can wait. All the other migratory birds have flown away, even they start parting in their migratory ways. Schools of migratory birds no longer exist, They were split into individuals just going around now in limbo, locating a place each thinks is appropriate for him.

And he chose this Gringo-land, but how does he start?
2024-04-12 04:17:30

Manila Travel 2022

It has been more than a year since I traveled to Manila and I planned to write about my itinerary but the plan had been subverted by my regular work and my business on the side. There is also social media that steals my precious time together with my multiple interests that seem to change by the day.

I assumed travel blogging would be easy for me given that I am semi-retired but I am a victim of poor organization, change of plans on a whim, and distractions, especially social media.

Some kind of self-discovery along these lines hit me while walking in my usual Florida park this morning. When I was in Manila in 2022, I got very focused on walking around the city getting in and out of taxis and trains despite my knee pain. I think it was because of my lack of access to the Internet. The hotels provided free wifi but these were mostly sporadic at best. So I ventured outdoors often and visited as many places as I could depending on available public transport to kill boredom. I walked so much that I lost weight despite eating whatever I wanted. I was in a way saying my goodbye to Manila.

The extensive Manila visit would probably be the last for me. Having turned 61, I agonizingly carried my backpack from one hotel to another; I climbed stairs to reach the platforms of train stations and walked at almost 5-10 miles each day. That proved to be too much for my body. I walked 14 miles and I slept for hours afterwards. I wrongly presumed I could wander like the same old college kid I was more than 35 years ago; in those days, I got from place to place, jumping from one jeepney to the next. Or tricycles. I dealt stairs with a bounce. I even turbocharged my efforts by running marathons until I was in my early 50s. Well, not anymore.

I am now extinct in the chaotic city of Manila.

In my small town in Florida, people seem to know each other. I walk in the neighborhood among familiar faces, we greet each other and though I avoid small talk and long conversations ( which everybody avoids as well) this little world provides the security resulting from being close knit. The town is clean and despite the occasional nosy neighbor with the propensity of investigating every trivial event in the neighborhood, we all seem to be happy with one another. Manila is a whole different kind of animal. Anonymity is more of a rule in this city except for the old timers who form small enclaves in some isolated corners like Quiapo and Avenida, like the huddled vendors on the streets, like the transient laborers in camps and tenements of Malate and Manila Bay. They live in small worlds within the world. But Manila people are mostly detached from one another; no different among major cities in the world; there is an added layer of being tolerant and friendly but suspicious at the same time.

As for me, I am a world on my own.

Despite the appeal of renting a car and being driven from one place to another by a hired driver (since I would probably be unsafe wading around the chaotic streets myself), I did not find that attractive to me. Especially when the cost does not match the value of the experience. It would feel like renting a limousine to go buy groceries at the nearby store. I still could walk long distances. I am still familiar with the ins and outs of the city. There is no fun in carefully planned visits of the places that I know like the palm of my hand. Besides, where is the challenge in being transported from one location to another behind glass car windows? I can experience the same by watching YouTube channels showcasing the same routes and places.

I wanted to be in the thick of it all - the noise, dirt, dust, smell. I want to be in the midst of chaos and a damn status symbol. Others may want to get this out of their paths as a sign they have made progress in life. I thought about that; I’d like to drive in my car, away from the heavy traffic and smog and pollution and the homeless that live in abundance in places that I frequent.

The question is - why do I frequent these places that have been abandoned by the Manila rich for more quiet and genteel and Western-looking places to live? I can afford a middle of the class condo in those places yet I keep returning to these working-class and cramped places. I want to rationalize this by my respect to Manila's historical sites, at least for me - all the way from Quiapo to Luneta to PICC; taking rides on elevated trains covering almost all the Metro Manila region. Makati, Cubao, Monumento and from Ayala, I could flag down a taxi to drive me to Bonifacio Global. At nights I stay put in Mabini or Pasay; I buy my meals in Carriedo and Quiapo; I keep walking the streets of Avenida and Recto where my most preferred trains start - either at Doroteo Jose or Recto are located. In the early morning I walk the length of Manila Bay up to CCP and PICC. And when darkness descends I sit alone on one of the benches of the Luneta.

Why do I keep returning to these familiar streets and landmarks? I think I am searching for the Manila ghosts because I am now a ghost myself. In the 1940s right after World War 2, a sentimental song became very popular throughout the world for its special effect on the minds and hearts of the people affected by the war. ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’ sung by Jo Strafford would not register anymore to anyone, especially among the generation that followed the Gen X and baby boomers. I bet some of the baby boomers don’t recognize this song anymore either. Some may not even want to hear it because it makes them feel ancient.

I’ll be seeing you, in all the old familiar places….

This is on account of the disappearing acts of soldiers into battlefields with no assurances of returning back alive. But when they returned, they returned to all their old familiar places and faces and normalcy. Their war only took 3-4 years of their lives. So in that short span, the places they left behind stayed familiar. I, on the other hand, am returning to Manila looking for my old familiar places after 33 years. It is not the same. But the song pulls on my heartstrings nevertheless. This is probably why ghosts like me come back. We wade and tour and move among crowds that are completely alien looking for that something, those little familiar things to prove to ourselves we lived here once upon a time.

I am 61 years old and no matter how I replay my history over and over again, no matter how I try to look intensely and turn my head around and around, the familiar places I seek are totally altered; not a single soul of anyone who used to know me in a city that has taken multiple makeovers is present. Luckily I have written some fictionalized versions of my time here. I wrote my Manila stories in my 20s and 30s, which I suppose no one has read although I published them in Kindle decades ago under a different name. I knew even then that I would become the way I am now. I would come back as a total stranger with no marks of my previous existence. I knew even then that nothing would be the same when I returned. I knew no one would see me with an iota of familiarity.

I was in my twenties when I lived in this city for years, and I recall this with some clarity. I recall those I befriended with young faces like mine. We were young and agile, full of dreams and ambitions. But time swallowed us whole. Even today, I don’t see them on any social media platforms. I am not sure where they went or what happened to them. Good thing is, I wrote stories that captured fictionalized versions of ourselves. Something to read back again perhaps once I become old and decrepit in my waning years; I can summon them all back in my mind, hoping my mind can still remember. The vanishing of my time and generation is inevitable but it didn’t help that I was the first to disappear and hide in the South of the USA, never to return for more than three decades. My old friends and I might have even crossed paths on one of the streets in Mabini without recognizing ourselves.

I used to have a rough time in this city during college because I was poor in a poor country. I would spare you of my melodrama which belongs to the pages of the stories I wrote in those dark years. All I can say is time has been very kind to me and I am back so much differently and better than my old days. I am here in Luneta. I see two young men run in front of me on their way to the bay. I am sitting on this rock, and it is familiar, it looks like the same rock I sat on nearly 40 years ago. Seeing the runners reminded me of my own legs that used to run on the same path they are following. I have always wanted to run in college because it was my only escape from the hard struggle of my youth. Don’t you worry, I’ll spare you the drama.
2024-04-07 05:50:34

Migratory Bird (circa 2005)

Manila Travel 2022

On Bad Blood (Part 1)

Understanding my unique Self on my way to Retirement

Intramuros 1