We left Caloocan in 1995 and I haven’t been back since my dad died in ’98. We decided to hold the funeral in Caloocan because that’s where most of his pals were. Most of my pals, too. My daughter was 2 at the time. My aunt took her the coffin and told her, “Look. Lolo is sleeping.” My daughter said, “Sleeping? He’s dead!” Anyway, 1998 was the last time I saw the old gang, the blokes I used to run with. We had a time reminiscing, then we buried my dad and that was the last time I went back there.
Fast forward to 2005. December 31st. Family reunion. Probably the only time I get to see my cousins that isn’t a funeral for some dead relative. One of my aunts still was in touch with the people in the street we used to live in and she gave me the following update.
Morrie is in jail. Arrested for selling drugs. Morrie was sort of like the leader. He was a jolly fun guy to be with, played guitar and sang, and was a bit of a ladies’ man, especially with the nannies and household help in the neighborhood. He was always first into battle when some punks tried to test our mettle. Sometimes we didn't have to fight them because Morrie has already put them in their place. Once Morrie, Gary, and I were hanging out on the street just shooting the breeze, when this punk from the other street came out, drunk and ranting and yelling for “whoever it was who insulted my family.” There was a pretty boisterous party the night before, and maybe somebody did yell something like “To hell with the [blank] family.” In English. We were pretty drunk then. We might even know who it was, but you don’t do that. You don’t come to our street and yell for one of our pals, and threaten to bring out your M-16. And we sure as hades weren’t handing anybody over to you. Morrie went and confronted the guy to ask him what the hell his problem was. Nicely. The guy then lit on Morrie, and yelled in his face. “I’m going to bring out my guns and you’ll see.” Actually he was more poetic than that. He said, “Pag umiyak ang M-16 ko, magkakaalaman din tayo.” I’ll make my M-16 cry and we’ll all get to know the truth. On and on he went. I never left Morrie’s side. We were trying to calm the punk down. Or kick his ass if necessary. We were just waiting for his move. Meanwhile, Gary rounded up the other blokes, and around 10 of them came out, ready to rumble. They surrounded the guy. “What’s your problem, eh?” But none of them touched him. Morrie had the honor of making the first move. The punk eventually backed off. Afterwards, Morrie thanked me for not leaving him alone. As if he needed me to kick the punk’s ass.
Tikyo is a drug addict. Actually this didn't come as a surprise. We had an inkling of it back then. Tikyo was a cook who also made a living selling fresh fish to eateries and restaurants. He used to work in Italy, and his kids had Italian names. Giuseppe, Giancarlo. Like that. Maybe he imagined himself to be Don Vito Corleone. Whenever he made a few bucks, it usually meant party time. He’d buy a goat and slaughter it himself, and cook at least 3 dishes from that single goat. He’d buy cases of beer, which we augmented sometimes with gin when the supply ran low. About 6 years ago he went to our house in Paranaque and when the beer ran out, he asked to be excused and went out. Gary and I (Gary moved to Paranaque even before we did) assumed he went out to light a joint, but it turned out, he was into something else. One of his sons died of an illness the year before and he probably took it harder than we thought he did. My aunt says he looks like an emaciated skeleton now.
Junkies is dead. Junkies was the neighborhood drunk who can always be counted on to show up whenever two or three of us are gathered together in the name of beer. He was actually a lot older than we were, but he liked hanging out with us even if we made fun of him for being a drunk. He got his nickname because he bought and sold junk for a living, whatever living he could scrape out of doing that. Mostly, he lived off the kindness of neighbors. There really was enough food in the neighborhood and all he had to do was show up. “Ano, Junkies? Kumain ka na?” Have you eaten? You can also count on Junkies to run errands for you. Once, one of the guys played a nasty trick on him. We were gathered together, drinking San Miguel Beer, when Junkies showed up, right on schedule. There was singing and the usual horsing around, when this guy pees in a glass, added some ice, and handed it to Junkies, who dutifully drank the stuff. “What this? Tastes different,” he says. “That’s Beer na Beer.” (Beer na Beer is a different brand of beer.) I swear I didn't know what was going on until they told me the next day, and yes, sue me, I laughed my head off. Junkies is dead but his younger brother Baby Cake is still alive and has taken his place. His legacy continues.
Every Christmas time, when Gary and I sit down over a few—ok more than a few—beers, we always reminisce about the good old days in Caloocan. Christmas time was when Morrie would round up a few of us who can sing, and we’ll go caroling. We had a guitar and we’d sing O Holy Night and a couple of others. We were good. This was attested to by the fact that we made money, which we wisely spent later on bottles of gin, 7-up, calamansi, and ice, a drink we fondly called a Set, which we mixed in a teapot. We also had enough money to buy a few dishes from the local restaurant. Everyone was invited to the nightly mini-parties. There was singing and horsing around and the occasional fisticuffs between drunken revelers who always patched up their differences the next day. And woe to the thief, cat burglar, purse snatcher, or ne’er-do-well running from the law or the neighborhood patrol who happens to choose our dead-end street to duck into whenever the entire gang was there. (Morrie once brought down a burglar by hitting him with a chair, and even tried accompanying the neighborhood patrol to the police station with the guy, an outing that was cut short when one of the patrol guys pointed out that a knife was sticking out from a wound just below Morrie's ribs. They took him to the hospital instead, where he promptly passed out.)
I often wonder how many more years we have til our topics would turn to those of us who are dead, the way our uncs and their pals do whenever they get together to reminisce. (Junkies doesn’t count. It’s a wonder he lasted as long as he did.) “How’s Barry Boy?” Dead. “How’s Louie Boo?” Dead. “How’s Sexy?” Dead. “How’s Jego?” Dead.
Do you want to live forever?