After a good night’s sleep and an uneventful day at ‘work’, Matt and I hit the beach at 1600hrs. Rog was not to accompany us because he had ‘The Duty’ and could not leave the ship.
That is the little part of The Naval Service Experience the recruiters never tell you about:
A war ship must be ever-ready to put to sea.
Or put out a fire.
Or counter a terrorism threat.
Or clean the shitters.
Or Worst of All: Standing Watch!
Hence, a percentage of the Ship’s Crew must remain on board at-all-times.
AT ALL TIMES
Call it a ‘skeleton crew’ if you will.
This is fitting since while stuck on board, unable to leave, one feels as if better off dead than…
Suffer the dread
Because Having The Duty Sucks!
AT ALL TIMES!
“Navy: It’s Not Just a Job. It’s A Pain-In-The-Ass.”
Magsaysay was a little more frenetic than usual for a hot, humid sunny day.
Or maybe it was my imagination.
“Matt,” I remarked as we sauntered down the street heading for Viva Young, “Seem a little busy today?”
“It’s a Filipino holiday,” he said.
“No shit? What’s the occasion?”
“I thought the Filipinos despised him.”
“They do. This holiday commemorates that poison arrow they embedded in his ass back in Fifteen Twenty-One.”
I laughed. “You’re bull-shittin’ me Matt!”
“Yeah, I am.” And he laughed. “I have no idea what, if anything special’s going on today.”
“How do you remember?”
“What? Remember what?” he said, while wistfully gazing at a Filipina standing in a barroom doorway.
Matt was easily distracted and had already lost the train of our conversation.
“The year of the untimely death of ‘Ferdinand-The-Fucked’”
(“Don’t know much about History. Don’t know much Biology. Don’t know much about a Science book. Don’t know much about the French I took …” But this sailor knows just enough to get him into trouble.)
“You remember who I married right?”
“Oh yeah. Of course. But I didn’t take Josie for a Philippines’ history buff.”
“I married her for her brain, not for her big tits and tight ass.”
“Now I KNOW you’re bull-shit.”
We laughed some more and continued down the street dodging the ubiquitous Jeepneys and Trikes and street vendors and sailors and marines and… You get the picture.
As we were making our descent toward Viva Young, we passed a balloon vendor who was struggling with an armload of bright balloons.
A light-bulb idea lit up in my brain (This sometimes happens, not often, but sometimes)
and I stopped dead in my tracks. Matt did not notice and kept on walking.
“Hey Matt!” I hollered, “Wait a sec. I wanna buy a balloon.”
Since Matt is a sentimental artist, he thought nothing of it.
Now if Rog had been with us, there
probably definitely would have been some unhappy words exchanged.
But Rog was stuck on the Freddy. And I smiled inside, imagining him stewing over doing his ‘Duty.’
I walked over to the kid selling balloons. He must have had no less than a baker’s dozen and a-half all trying to escape into the sky. Since I am such a prince of a guy, I decided to relieve him of his burden so he could call it an early day.
“How much for all?” I asked.
“How much for all?” I repeated. “I wanna buy all your balloons.”
“Uh, Pive Hundred Peso” (This is roughly ten dollars)
I gave him the money.
He gave me the balloons.
Matt shook his head.
We walked into Viva Young.
And all Hell and Pandemonium broke loose.
The girls squealed with delight as they, en masse, stampeded over almost knocking us down in the doorway.
‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! Gimmie Balloon!” fifteen voices yelled in unison as thirty arms reached out from bouncing girls.
“That’s what they’re for Little Darlings” I said as I untied the bundle and passed them out.
The girls dispersed back deep into the bar with their new prizes.
I felt some cold blue steel penetrating my head. I glanced in the direction of the source.
“Where MY Balloon, Goddam Chew?”
“Uh, Mama-San… You don’t want no balloon. I have something way more special for you that I picked up in Hong Kong.”
During our last Hong Kong port visit, anticipating such an emergency, I had purchased a semi-cheap but nice, lovely locket on a gold chain. I fished the little box out of my pocket and handed it to her.
She opened it, smiled a sweet smile at me, then caught herself and said, “Why you no gimme this before?”
“I was waiting for a ‘special’ occasion.”
“What special occasion?”
“I was waiting for the ‘special’ occasion of you being in a good mood.”
“I no in good mood now,” she said.
“Yeah, I know, but I got tired of waiting.”
“Well, ‘salamat’” (Filipino for ‘thank you’), she said. “It nice.”
“Walang anuman,” (You’re welcome) I said back. Two can play at this game.
Thinking this was the only opportune chance I would have, I broached the subject:
“I didn’t see New Girl. She here today?”
Instant frown: Just add Lance-the-Butterfly-Sailor and stir the shit.
“I told you! She off you limit!”
“Ah, come on Mama-San. I just want to talk to her. You know you have my heart.”
“Chew bull-chit-man! Yeah, she here. Go to look around you-self asshole.”
“What’s her name?”
“Thanks.” And I went off on my quest before Mama could say anything else.
I discovered ‘Lourdes’ at the back of the bar. Why she had not claimed her balloon, I have no idea. But I theorized she was still very new to this ‘business’ and quite shy.
There was an extra balloon bouncing off one of the hanging light fixtures. I rescued it and walked up to Lourdes.
“Hi. My name’s Lance,” I said as I handed her the red balloon.
She looked up at me through beautiful dark Filipina eyes, took the balloon tether from my hand and said quietly, “Tank you por balloon. Red my pav’rit color. My namb ‘Lourdes’.”
“Yes, I know. Nice to meet you Lourdes.”
“How you know my namb?”
“Mama-San told me.”
The mention of ‘Mama-San’ seemed to make her nervous, so I quickly changed the subject.
“Come sit with me at the bar, okay?”
“Uh… Okay” she said as I led her to the part of the bar furthest away from the prying eyes of Mama.
We sat down and I must have gotten lost in her for a moment. She fidgeted a bit. I finally found my voice and asked,
“Aren’t you supposed to say it?”
“Say what?” she asked.
“Say, ‘You buy me drink’?”
“Oh yeah. I por’git. You buy me drink?”
“Of course I will.”
Some things are universal.
In these ‘types’ of establishments, no matter what town, city, county, country, or continent, the ‘game’ never waivers:
The girls hustle way over-priced drinks which more often than not, especially in Olongapo, consist of weak tea—no booze—but cost three times as much as top-shelf scotch.
It’s just the little dance we all must do and I have always been just fine with the arrangement, never being one intent on breaking the rules nor upsetting the balance of power in the universe.
We chatted for an hour or so over several beers for me and several ‘scotch’s’ for her.
Eventually, she began to relax having come to the conclusion, I surmised, that I was not a monster and actually a decent guy to hang out with.
Sad to have to say, but most sailors and marines have a ‘I buy you one drink baby, then it’s I-pay-your-bar-fine and we go to the show.’ standing policy.
Your humble sailor is not such a man.
“’Lourdes’ is a lovely name.” I said, gently brushing her hair back from her cheek.
“Tank you. I like it.”
“Not your real name, is it Honey?”
“No,” she admitted. “I pic it outta book.”
“Kind of a ‘stage name’ eh?”
“Oh, yeah… Kinda. Yes.”
“Would you tell me your real name?”
“Mary-Lou. Mary-Lou Perucho.”
“I like that better,” I said. “May I call you ‘Mary-Lou’ from now on?”
“Yes, but not in pront of Mama-San.”
“Don’t worry. Your secret’s safe with me. Where you from Mary-Lou?”
“I prom da prob’ence.”
To be continued…