May 2006


I am finally back home in my cozy studiio in Brooklyn Heights. The tv is buzzing out comments on Roddick’s First (and last) Round game in this year’s French Open. The ac is whirring in the background as the city heats up to herald the unofficial start of summer. The shredder is churning out thin sheets of paper as I feed it last week’s worth of accumulated junk mail. I was supposed to have been greeted by these sounds last night but due to thundestorms at Chicago (where I was supposed to make a connection in O’Hare from Seattle), I missed the second leg of my flight and had to stay the night in the Windy City. I finally made it back by lunchtime today and unfortunately had to miss a very important day at work. But that ended up being less of a concern as I hopped into the cab and felt my mind turn into mush from sheer fatigue. Nevertheless, the yellow cab and the bright sun were very reassuring after so many days of rain in the midst of unfamiliar transit means out in Seattle.

But I hope that doesn’t give the impression that I not like the city. I like Seattle. I like that it’s a cross between Chicago and Montpelier. There’s an urban oasis in the midst of mountain melting into water. There is the Mount Rainier range on one side and the Puget Sound into the Pacific on the other. I like this state of natural uninterruption — being able to witness fluidity in one’s space, the seeming limitlessness of this earth as far as one’s eye can see. There is that pristine beauty of nature coupled with the modern conveniences of man. There are great restaurants, a gay scene, and a substantial art current that includes museums (although the Seattle Art Museum is closed this time due to expansion), galleries and some theater. (Unfortunately, I was looking forward to Fifth Avenue’s Pippin production which turned out wasn’t showing anymore. Instead, they posted a Les Mis tour which I can just wait for out here on Broadway.) There certainly are things to do but not to the point of overstimulation-at-breakneck-speed like NY. People in Seattle stop and take the moment in and breathe the space. The cafe culture is very strong as it should be. Seattle makes really good (Umbria) coffee.

Hans and I went to Macrina in Bellevue yesterday. I remember how we just sat at the bar and had coffee and morning rolls. He read the paper while I enjoyed my coffee. I know I could have done the same thing back here but I’m sure it would not have been the same. Firstly. I would never have sat in the counter to drink my coffee knowing that I am tied to doing the thousand and one things that I want done back in the apartment. Secondly, even if I did, the vibe would have been so much different. Here, the cafe would have been hustling and bustling and everything would have been at a frenetic, frenzied pace. There, the pace was a lot relaxed, they seem to be more attentive to making your coffee stop better than to serving more coffee cups to make more money. They make the cofee as you order it — grind the beans, brew it, pour it into a cup and even effortlessly make an artful milk drip marked on your latte’s foam. It took more than 5 minutes for our coffee to come but it didn’t matter. I was then in Seattle. I was nibbling at my roll and was being mindful of what was around me and not of what was not coming yet.

I also like the ethic of the city. Beyond people drinking good coffee, I like that people are disciplined and orderly. It still surprises me how people don’t cross the street when it’s a STOP sign lit even though there are no cars around. Hans says so much of the city are engineers and computer people (considering Boeing and Microsoft and Google) which adds to such a strict sense of nerd code. These are smart but socially awkward people who live by a sense of bookish order. I find that sensibility very appealing if not downright sexy. But it seems these nerds are health buffs too. We were driving around Green Lake looking for some stuff and I saw soooo many runners out and about. That was a nice sight. I am an avid runner and it does tickle to see co-runners who are just yummy to look at. Needless to say, I find boys from the Northwest really cute.

The gay scene seems to have exploded the past year. I’ve been there several times now and it has been getting bigger every visit. Of course, the old reliable are still there like the Cuff and Neighbours (or the Crescent of you’re into the really divey scene.) Man Ray and R bar are already old news. New poseur spaces such as lounges like Purr (which I liked because it was different, although quite like the seedy lounges in the East Village but so much bigger and neater and served really good Nachos) and clubs like Sugar (which really was nothing more than an XL copy with a dance floor) and Chapel (which is an afterhours space that seems to have brought the Limelight model to Seattle considering that is is an old chapel they redid into a club.) Also, the bathhouses are there still. It was just disappointing that the bars were not packed this weekend. It could have been that there really isn’t enough of a consuming gay market in this city that the scene ends up cannibalizing each other and imploding on its own growth bubble. But, also, it could just be that all the gay boys were out camping and making their own Brokeback Mountain experience.

The city is beautiful and the boys are pretty but what I like most about Seattle is the food. There was that brunch at Crave. There were many others at Cafe Septienne, an old reliable on Capitol Hill (which is the city’s gay ghetto.) Then, there was that really nice dinner at Lampreia, this fine restaurant at Bellevue (which was right by Macrina.) We did the 5-course tasting menu with wine pairings that ended up being a $300 dinner but it sure was worth it. The courses (which we began with a glass of champagne each) included dungeness crab served in a honey wrap; kobe beef (which Hans emphased was different from kobe-style beef) served carpaccio style with quail egg and a wafer; a poached duck egg with foie gras infusion; sea bass with potatoes; and chukar strawberries filled with white mousse and a tapioca pudding concoction. We also had a cheese plate infused with vanilla on a cedar server. Of course, coffee capped the whole meal. It was just divine. Most memorable too was the dinner that Hans made on my last night. He prepared a nice, fresh, pink slab of Copper River Sockeye Salmon (apparently available only for 3 weeks at a season) served with a pasta with gin and lemon sauce and fiddle head greens (a local fern). I love sharing fine meals with good friends. I believe they strike at the heart of what good times mean — an opening of the senses, a savoring of the moments, shared satisfaction, a definite ending.

I just had tv dinner tonight and am looking to make some tea that hopefully will put me to sleep. (I only have a few hours to go before I get to work so taking some Ambien probably would not be a good idea since it would knock me out till lunchtime.) I do miss my weekend vacation but I am happy to be back in this apartment that serves microwavable meals in this city of stressed-out people living hectic lives. This is familiar and here is where I want to be right now, where I fit in, where I find a home for my restlessness.

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I am again at Hans’ apartment in Seattle. Another year has come and gone ushering in another Memorial Day weekend. I went to Vancouver and Seattle last year. I am revisiting this region again this year on a much shorter trip (which is just for a long weekend instead of over 10 days.)

I just had a piggy plateful of pad Thai, spring rolls and red curry chicken from the Thai joint downstairs. (I love Uwajimaya!) After eating really healthy or lean this whole week (realizing that my diet consisted of bananas, chicken salad and cheese brioche since getting back from Manila), eating a meal as big as this is putting me into a haze.

But not that I need any more impetus to push me into a worse state of disorientation than I already am in. I didn’t sleep last night because I was so afraid that I would never wake up in time and would miss my 6 am flight out of LGA. I hung out with Tim (this guy I’ve been dating for over 2 months now — but more on him later) till really late. (We saw the overwhelmingly tedious Da Vinci Code at the Chelsea Queerview then, went for some Mexican fare and capped it off with the underwhelmingly tame Spunk’d party at Splash.) I took the lazy late F train back to Brooklyn Heights and only allowed myself a frantic half-hour to pack and run some chores before I left for Seattle. I was out cold during the 2 legs of the trip (to Chicago and then to Seattle) in an uncomfortable and cramped coach plane seat. Now that I am in Hans’ cozy apartment where there is a tatami bed with lots of pillows warmly framed by a bamboo mat, I can’t seem to rest well. (Hans, despite being a Caucasian boy who’s Minnesota-born-and-bred, has a strong taste for things Asian, if you get my drift.) I tried to doze off before but could never find myself to drift into a deep slumber. I was always fidgeting around to the hundred little things that I wanted to do yet never really needed to. The only thng I needed to do was sleep and I can’t seem to do it.

Of course, I guess I’m still jetlagged. Also, I am running on caffeine still.

Hans and I had a really good brunch at Crave, this little place on Capitol Hill that serves great comfort food. I was really delighted with my omelet of Canadian bacon, Braeburn apples, caramelized onion and peppers and Gorgonzoula cheese served wit a side of apple sausage. (Even their toast was as satisfying!) This whole ensemble was made complete by 2 cups of potent Umbria coffee. Between what I do and what I drink, I think I’m doomed to sleeplessness.

Then again, I really think it’s what I do that ultimately spells my doom.

In between bouts of half-sleep and half-hearted web surfing, I managed to arrange a hook-up while Hans was working. I went on to reliable Gay.com and picked up Mark, a 31-year-old engineer from Bellevue who was willing to drop by on his way home (to his boyfriend). I was horny and he was interested. There’s something really titillating about a discreet, chance encounter that makes such a hook-up even more charged with sexual tension. I was hoping Hans wouldn’t come home in time (and catch us although he did give me the wink and said i could do as I pleased) and Mark probably was hoping his boyfriend wouldn’t catch him in a hook-up chatroom. Mark was a Caucasian guy with a buff body and a monster cock. It was a good 8.5″ with a very big and thick mushroom head. (If dickilicious was anything, it would have been this.) I was being very careful about dirtying Hans’ sheets so we decided to make a big shower scene over it. It was really wet and very hot and it was over before I could even begin to remember how we started. Mark quickly zipped himself up and left. I still smelled the soap off his hair when I saw him off and caught the hunch of a back laden with, maybe guilt, or, maybe the what-if-I-didn’t-do-it questions that only get asked in hindsight.

In hindsight, I wasn’t regretting the hook-up at all. I maybe should have skipped the coffee over brunch and probably should have taken some Ambien after it. But the coffee was too good to be missed and the afternoon in a beautiful Northwestern city was too wide open for the possibilities to not be explored. I remain to live my life with no regrets.

It wasn’t all familial duty for me that Friday in Manila. I also allowed myself some time for play that night. Of course, meeting up with my friend, East, along with our other friends in the city, for theater and dinner was all part of that plan.

East and I told the rest of our friends after dinner that we were going to Malate, Manila’s new hip hub of homo culture. Who were we deceiving? We ended up going to Adonis, a strip club, right after dinner. We had gone to Adonis the night before and had lusted after this dancer named Wendell who had a really lean and sexy bod that he worked to his advantage as he gyrated on stage. We were both virgins to the lapdance-in-a-private-room business in Manila so we were beat to the game by an old checkbook-wielding Korean woman whom we nicknamed Granny. Granny snagged Wendell before I could even shake his hand. Deflated, we went home that night. (East had work the following day and I did not want to be the overimposing guest — I felt that asking him to hang out with me to redeem me from the dullness of a family night dinner in a Brazilian churascarria at Rockwell Center was already imposing enough.) Malate was a further drive out. Adonis was right in the neighborhood of the restaurant we had dinner in. We opted to live out our frustrated fantasy from the night before over the thrill of creating new ones in the city’s own gay ghetto.

The first point in the night’s plan was to find out if Wendell was around and if he was available. Apparently, Granny was back there again that night and had, again, beaten us to him. Danny, the strip club’s floor manager who struck me as a cross between Mr. Clean and Boy Abunda, a faggy Filipino talk show host, was gracious enough to invite us in to stay. It was only half an hour before midnight and we decided to go in and wait it out. We were men on a mission.

The place was a dark and dank basement. Tables were cluttered around a stage that had 2 poles lined out at front and a beach background painted on the central wall in the back. There was an empty bar on the left and the notorious private rooms on the right. Masseurs littered around the tables like roaches on the edges of wood parquet floors. Wendell was sitting with Granny on a table in the back, his arm around her shoulders, sharing drinks and what very small talk there is between a Filipino go-go boy and an old Korean tourist. One nasty stripper after another drifted in and out of the stage, unimpressively if not ridiculously. There was Walter, a chubby, butt-slapping, dick-crunching go-go boy who turned in the most irregular of angles and amazingly made butt-slapping more obnoxious than it already is. (Walter was, incidentally, Wendell’s brother. Is the world really getting that smaller?!) There was another one who could not only dance but did not even have the face and the body to be up there for that reason. He was just so forgettable if not for the sole reason of providing a counterpoint to the go-go boys who give that career a good and thrilling name. Then, there was another one who fit this mold. And another one. The music began to be more appealing than the dancing. The ice began melting into our Diet Cokes and our disinterest in the dancers began morphing from mild frustration to outright ridicule.

Then, Ace came onto the floor. He was a big Filipino-Chinese boy with long, black hair, a strong, square jaw and a beefy but very smooth and sexy body. He looked good, he danced even better. He gyrated slowly to the song, accentuating the sexy curves in his abdomen, flicking his hair back and smiling inhibitedly, teasingly. He even seemed to turn the motion of stripping his shorts into an art. It could have been that everyone else turned it into a rote and disruptive routine by simply yanking their shorts off and mechanically walking to a corner of the stage and dropping it there. Ace unzipped it, let it fall to his knees, made it fall to the ground, stripped it off the floor. Technique folded into gravity in one smooth swoop. It was titillating. Surprisingly, I liked him. Shockingly, I found someone I liked enough in this skanky joint. East liked him too. We motioned to Danny to call Ace into our table. Our night was looking up.

Ace came over and sat between East and myself. We were having Diet Cokes and he ordered an iced tea. He made a comment about us ordering beer instead, any alcohol, to make the night more fun. In hindsight, I guess he was speaking more for himself than for us. I didn’t need any alcohol to pump myself up for a homoerotic moment. Apparently, he must have. Anyway, East and I started amusing ourselves by talking to him. It was only the night before when we started making fun of Granny and her small talk with Wendell. Now, we found ourselves in the same hold with Ace. The art of conversation with a go-go boy in a strip club in Manila is more like being in a busy intersection in a third-world city than it is a straight-through-4-lane-highway in, let’s say, the American Southwest. There’s always a stop after every few minutes. It’s always a frustrating struggle to get back on track and groove into an effortless, fluid motion.

We began by making up personas. East was Dennis and I was Jon (who were the names of our friends’ husbands.) Ace was Ace which, surely, was a stage name. But, beyond the names and addresses, there really wasn’t that much enthusiasm nor desire to build up a fake story on each persona. We began talking about what and how we were doing based on what was real in our lives. Ace began to tell his story too.

He hails from a southern city and went to Manila with dreams of making some money. His degree at a private Catholic college was becoming too expensive for him and his family to sustain. He got off on the avenue by Adonis and found himself walking into the club needing a job. He has been doing this for a year — but only on weekends — and claims to tell his family that he has been working as a waiter at an Italian joint the whole time. What struck me more than what he said — besides his naturally smooth body — was how he said things. He was shy, but not only at first. He was reserved for what seemed to be the entire time. It was very reassuring knowing that there was something deeper in him that he wants hidden. I found that demeanor very erotic. Slowly being made aware of his mystery made me want to know him more. (I wonder if it was a very intelligent ruse on his end or if I was simply imagining these things to indulge my fantasy.) Needless to say, I was falling under his spell. So was East.

Ace got up to dance. Then, Wendell came over. Either Granny must have grown tired or Danny must have pulled some strings to yank him away from her. We told him the story about how we saw him the night before and wanted to talk to him but was beaten to him by Granny. I’m sure he was pumped up by that whole story. Wendell struck me as being like a kid in a candy store when he was on the table. He was all hyper and laughed uninhibitedly. He also had this roughness to him that can only be borne from a hardened life in the streets. He struck me as a guy who was just raw. Everything was lain on the surface. Nothing was held back. It was exactly what overt stimulation was all about. Utlimately, it was thrilling but also fleeting. I was already getting bored with him as soon as I got over feeling his sculpted abdomen and hearing him laugh in snickers the whole time. Then, Ace came back and sat down. The night turned up again.

It was interesting having all 4 of us on the table. I found the whole prospect of East and I and 2 go-go boys being paid to pleasure us charged with sexual energy and heavily shaded with the politics of personal power. East and I were in control because we had the cash. It seemed even more perverse in that setting considering that the go-go boys were treated mainly as objects rather than people who provided a set of services with defined parameters and set objectives. Apparently, the only goal was to do as we pleased. It was exhilarating, could be maddening.

There was even more pointless talk at this point. Wendell was just yakking beside East in his gruff tone and macho manner. Ace seemed to have a plan to make a connection beyond the time we paid for him in this establishment. He took out his cellphone and was bent on getting our contact info. It was moot to get mine since I was headed back to NY the following day. He did manage to get East’s number though. That was an interesting twist.

Thankfully, Danny must have sensed the fork in the road. The time for small talk had been long enough. Either we were going for their private show or we had better order more more drinks for a longer version of the nonsense we had sunk ourselves into. He led us into an even darker room at the back of the club where there were 2 couches and a table illuminated by an eerily green light. I’m sure there was a stench to it but its thickness had already been masked by the numbing effect of our having spent a long time in the club. We had gotten used to the froth of smoke, stale air and (pent-up and explored) sexual tension that hung heavy in the air.

There was that dynamic of greater ease that the private room afforded. At least, I was more at ease, more ready to hang loose. Ace and Wendell seemed to feel the same way. Was it calculated ease? Was it, again, an intelligent ruse meant to play us up? This was not, after all, their first time at the rodeo. I will never know. Alll I know is that East sat on the opposite edge of the couch. He seemed uncomfortable but open, uptight but expectant.

We were entitled to three songs. Ace danced for me first. He showed me the reason I love lapdances. He pushed me willingly into a private world where I was able to live out my fantasy for the moment. His body was right next to me, in front of me. He was literally on my lap. He could feel each heavy breath of air I took. I could feel his every contour — his beefy chest, his strong arms, his powerful legs. He wanted me to, holding my hands to cup his pecs, pushing them down to feel his thighs. I was helpless to obey. That whole notion of the irony of my helplessness coupled with the paradox of my ultimate place of power in the context of that couch was the culmination of the fantasy.

At the end of the first song, East wanted the boys to switch to which they enthusiastically obliged. Wendell told Ace that they should take their shorts off. (These shorts were nothing more than denim cut-offs. The Dukes of Hazzard were already so last-year but it seems these Daisy Dukes are here to stay in Manila.)

Wendell was a pin-up boy fantasy. His strong face crowned by neatly-buzzed hair with only the slightest hint of a boyish mullet at his nape resembled that of a basketball jock whom I secretly lusted after during my outwardly-hetero-but-repressed-homo college days. His cut-up pecs and his four-pack abs could have easily made him an A-lister among the Asian-American gym bunnies at the NY Sports Clubs. His lean legs would have easily made him blend into the hapa surfer dudes lounging in the North Shore of Oahu. We were not mistaken in calling him the hottest go-go boy in the club.

He was wearing grey briefs that he filled-up quite nicely. Ace felt like a hairless teddy bear. Wendell felt like a boy who had spent so many hours at the gym with the goal of being lean and defined — he was a well-chiseled stone. I was tingling all over as I touched him. It was too easy to play with him. He got a hard-on as soon as I ran my hand over the cotton that covered his dick. His package became more evident and the head of his cut dick began to creep up from the garterline of his briefs. I started playing with it. He obliged me for a time, then, he hid it back into his undies. It was okay. I was already satisfied. My desire for this boy had already been fulfilled in this lapdance. I tried to grab a hold of my sense and not plunge into the irredeemably deep cloud of delusion that was so easily tempting to be cloaked in in this place. I was paying for the moment and nothing more.

The thrill was not cheap (if the only consideration was the peso since it was still relatively a basement bargain considering I spent a total of 4 hours with these boys and managed to spend a sum equivalent to $70 — Montreal’s lapdances when I went a few years ago charged C$10 for a song. I paid $40 for 3 songs plus tip for a total time of 6 minutes.) But, like all thrills, it was fleeting. I was already over Wendell. His boyish demeanor showing up in abrupt jokes and uncontrollable bursts of laughter in the middle of the lapdance that was disruptive of my whole fantasy made the whole thing end sonner than planned but later than I had wanted to.

Ace was very conscious before the start of the third song. He wanted to be hard but couldn’t seem to get a grip on it. It could have been Wendell being in the same room. Or it could have been that having internalized the hint of a friendship (with East) made him even more shy, if not uneasy. Or he could have found me intimidating. He turned the lights off to first play with himself. Then, when he couldn’t seem to get the hard-on he wanted, he went out for what seemed to be quite some time. He went back still displeased but Wendell was getting antsy so Ace obliged us all by begining to dance.

Ace lurched on my lap wearing nothing more than a purple bikini that framed his package well. He was gyrating on my lap as his stage and, before I knew it, started showing himself and playing with it. I really couldn’t understand what his whole problem was since, even at a semi-hard state, his dick was impressive. It was a good 6 inches semi-hard. It may not have been thick (or was I just so used to Caucasian girth?) but its length was far from disappointing. He pulled it out from the side of his bikini. Then, started to show it right out of it. At so many points, his dick was right in front of my face. I don’t know if he was teasing me to suck it but I know I could have if I wanted to. (I’m sure I waned to but I was just unsure of actually blowing a go-go boy in that place. Then again, I actually did blow a go-go boy I fancied in an East Village bar when we played around in my gym’s steam room. I guess it was more of East being there. Our friendship had reached a whole new level but I didn’t want to push it unnecessarily to scandalous heights.) It wasn’t just his dick that was in front of my face. He was actually limber enough (or he was that good) that he managed to bring his face right in front of mine too. There were some points when his lips were just a hairline away from mine. Did he want me to kiss him? The time to ponder the answer to this dilemma was more than the moment allowed. Before I knew it, he was back to this naked, towering, luscious 22-year-old man on my lap, and it seemed before we both knew it, the song had ended.

I paid for 3 songs and felt that I had gotten more than what I wanted. It felt so surreal when it ended. Ace and Wendell putting their shorts back on after being almost naked for what seemed to be a gratifyingly long time. East looked at me from the other edeg of the couch with this look of sheer satisfaction. The eerily green light cast a hazy, dreamy glow on the ending. Reality was already sobering the fantasy. I felt the need to drink more Coke and pee. East lit a cig. Wendell was beginning to feel the effects of the gin tonic he had been drinking the whole night and wanted to eat. He ordered a breakfast meal on us. (It was morning after all.) Ace didn’t want to order the same thing because he was on a diet. He ordered french fries instead.

Ordering the food allowed us to buy more time with them. I wondered if that was really necessary since what we were buying here for ourselves were more of the nonsense that we began this night with. The conversations just provided more questions than answers. We found out that they both had girlfreinds but would sleep with guys for the right fee. Hmmm, they were gay for pay. Maybe Wendell was. But was Ace not only for pay but really gay? We found out that they were both students who stopped because of the prohibitive amount of tuition and fees. Were they being honest there or were they playing up to the sympathies of liberal-minded middle-class gay ubran professionals? We found out that they were eager to hang out outside this rathole. Were they being serious or were they just looking for a quick treat — to build upon the hopes of playing with a sugar boyfriend? I was becoming more and more disinterested in the whole exercise of conversation. I found it pointless since I did not mean to extend the fantasy to future moments. I can’t anyway. But East can and he wanted to with Ace.

Wendell went out to dance and East decided to come clean with Ace. We reintroduced ourselves with our real names this time to Ace in the confines of the private room. Him and East began to strike a hopeful deal that would mean their hanging out beyond that night. East was being gracious. Gen Co, Ace’s real name, was being really helpful and was most happy with the outcome, and also most grateful for the generous gift of trust. I found that striking and endearing. But I was still adamant at refusing to give him my contact info. He wanted to get my email but I refused. It would have been an interesting social project if I had a transcontinental correspondence witha go-go boy. But considering that my life was already overflowing with these numerous kinds of projects, I took the wise road and decided not to.

All I wanted to do with Gen for the remaining minutes was to play with him. We ended up making out and touching. East and Wendell lay on the other end seemingly only slightly interested in trying to make the most out of extending the fantasy in the little time left to us. I was looking to stretch it to the end. Gen had thin, light lips and a clean breath. (I was sure he brushed before this number.) We started out with cutesy buzzes on the cheek and on the lips. Then, we ended up making out lightly, passionately. I haven’t had sex since I got to Manila and this was the closest I would get to it given the circumstances of my vacation.

East and I left Wendell and Gen with what we believed were generous tips. We tipped Danny too for being good to us. iit was 3 AM and I had a flight to catch later that night. Apparently, East was worse off that time since he had to bring people to the airport in a few hours. He dropped me off the house and sped off. God knows when I would see him again but I was happy that we capped off this short week with a shared gay experience. Doubtless, our friendship had reached a whole new level. Like with my best friend in NY (whom I roomed with in Fire Island last summer and similar to our exploits in the meatrack), this was us scraping the sleazy light fantastic together.

There really is nothing to learn with a night-out in a strip joint. It is a commercial transaction and not a moral story unfolding. Notions are reinforced though, heavily colored. The meat market is ultimately subjective. Some people want the butt-slapping and dick-crunching kind. Others like us want the face and the attitude to go with the body. Nothing comes for free either. You get as much as what you’re willing to pay for. But, in a go-go strip, you only pay for the sexual fantasy and not for the person. To think the latter is to be delusional. But that doesn’t mean that you may not get more than you bargained for. Every moment is a renegotiation. You can only receive what you are willing to risk. We give out the cash initially, then we receive the pleasure from the service that their body allows. We give out ourselves, then we risk the rejection or the acceptance of the prospect of knowing the person beyond the bikini. Nothing gets to pierce the illusion more than two people choosing to get past the acquaintance borne of this business arrangement and beginning their own interaction on a personal level. Funds can never buy friendship.

I really didn’t intend to visit my dad in Manila anytime soon. The only family trip I was planning this year was my Thanksgiving visit to my mom and sister in Honolulu. But life seems to hit you in the most disruptive spots when you least expect it. So I did a whirlwind trip last week to Manila and back to make such a visit. My dad is sick so I flew to Manila to be with him. It reads so simple in 13 words but the reality is much severe.

My dad is sick. I first heard of this from my mom when she called one Tuesday afternoon to tell me that he was taken into the hospital. Then, one bright spring Friday morning, I am surprised to see 3 missed calls register in my cellphone — my mom’s in Honolulu, my cousin’s in Dallas and my aunt in NY. I thought my dad had already died. I called every single one of them at lunch time and they echoed the same sentiment. He was very close to dying. He suffered a heart attack and had been taken to the ICU of St. Luke’s Hospital in Manila. Apparently, the doctors did a good job. They pumped the water out of his lungs and managed a successful angioplasty. Three of his arteries remain to be blocked which necessitates a triple bypass procedure. It was discovered that he has had a long history of addiction to painkillers which somehow neutralized its effects in his body especially when needed. The angioplasty ended up being a painful procedure considering that the anesthesia wasn’t completely being effective. The whole family is rallying for him to undergo the triple bypass. The whole family wants him to live. He wants to forego the whole procedure. He has thrown his hands in and given himself to fate.

So I flew to see him. I was supposed to fly out to show support as he undergoes his triple by pass surgery. But at that point that he still did not want to do it, then I asked myself what I had flown in there for. The initial reason for the trip suddenly became moot. I needed to grapple with a much more satisfying reason. I flew out there to be with him in our family’s time of need.

I remember distinct conversations with family members. My aunt spoke in imperatives: “When are you going home — this week or next?” My brother spoke with a dramatic bent: “Do you want to see him when he’s alive or do you want to see him when he’s dead?” My dad spoke in what seemed to be a genuine plea: “Yes. I want you to go home.” Ultimately, hearing the latter cemented my decision.

I would like to think of myself as the callous if not prodigal son. I had left and wandered away and seemed to not want to turn back. (I was indeed gone for over 7 years and felt neither the need nor want to go back until absolutely necessary.) Of course, there is that propensity for self-imposed drama that this thought process manages to satisfy.

But I am not as insensitive as I would like to think or portray myself as. I was distraught when i first heard the news. I had been moved by my dad’s plea. I remain to grapple with the meaning of this ongoing event. The process is integrally an emotional event. To reflect on something is to be affected by it.

A good friend here in NY mentioned something that struck me to the core a few nights before I left for Manila. Here was a man who had just witnessed sheer trauma — coming home to his Chelsea apartment on a weeknight and finding his roommate hanging from the beam in his room — and all lI could come up with when I spoke to him were staid, (un)funny (if not less appropriate) one-liners. He said that I was unfeeling — that I lived without emotion. He observed this with my responses regarding this situation with my father. The unsaid part could also be true with my responses regarding his own situation. Hollow humor never spoke much if anything. When all is said and laughed at, there remains no real response to hold on to and bring home to one’s solace. (Maybe the same can be said for petty whining.)

Am I unfeeling?

I flew out to be with my dad. What did to be with someone mean?

Interrelation is key. But intellectualization ultimately is not. But it cannot be denied that to be is inevitably linked with an object, a someone. I cannot be by myself. The other is always a constant (subject-object) presence. But my problem has never been the absence of knowing. It can probably be too much knowing — excessive intellectualization can lead to it being impulsive. Instead of instinctive affectation, I instantly succumb to the defense of the antiseptic thought process — sinking into myself and not stretching outward to risk the other’s unknown response of either acceptance or rejection. It is always a safe and satisfying and purely egotistical and self-serving way to be.

I was always raised to be self-absorbed. But to grow older always presents itself the opportunity for change, whether slow or salvific. Just because I was self-absorbed does not mean that I should continue to do so.

I’ve always held strongly to my dad dying if he wanted to. Let people die if they want to. No one is indispensable. The world will continue to turn. But people are not abstract concepts. Not everyone remains to be statistic. The world is not the sum of 10 billion people but the few who matter around me. When they do die, they will flow into being a mere statistic in the anthropologic record of death but they will forever be an integral part of my life, my history, my being. These people are not indispensable. No one can replace my father.

Him dying is much in my own mystery dying. People spend their whole lives trying to figure out who they are and, yet, forget to seek answers from the flesh and blood who brought them forth and nurtured them in those most important years of formation.

No one can replace my father. I flew out to Manila to be with him because he is sick. It sounds so simple that it risks betraying the gravity that the weight of the statement holds.

But, as sick as my dad is, he is also just as stubborn. It seems I underestimated how stubborn my dad was. (This is quite a small surprise since I am an old mule myself.) I flew out to Manila on Sunday and it was not until that Friday that I along with my family managed to drag him to the hospital to see the doctor.

It was interesting how everyone began that day beaming with hope that my dad might finally submit to doing the bypass procedure. The car ride out to the hospital was a big cheerleading routine meant to entertain and to encourage my father to do so. We finally made it to the hospital and into the doctor’s clinic. The doctor turned out to be this effeminate guy in his mid-40’s who dished out lots of medicalese (supposedly because he was in a roomful of doctors — my dad, my brother and his wife, and my other brother — who would manage to understand his jargon.)

The whole exercise that was the check-up was meant to elucidate what was already known. My dad’s heart is deteriorating. The normal systolic rate was 55 and he was already undergoing mild to moderate cardiac sclerosis since his was at a rate of 40-45. His heart is suffering regurgitation and is already becoming enlarged by the day. His medication can only do so much to alleviate his condition. Ultimately, he needs to undergo heart bypass to alow the healthy flow of blood in and ou of his heart. Foolishly not doing so is fatal. (I found it particularly striking how he compared dying unexpectedly, or as Joan Didion would succinctly call it — life ending as you know it in an instant — after eating a hearty plate of salty fish.)

What I did not know but quietly expected was how dad my remained unbudging in his refusal to submit to the operation. He was very adept at selling his own agenda of making the doctor believe that he was already feeling better, already too well to even need to undergo the surgery. Suddenly, medication trumps operation. His sister admirably tried to do all the talking. She looked to us for support in what was turning out to be a lost cause. My brother stepped up and asked about the surgery’s schedule at which point my dad just stood up and abruptly left. I couldn’t say anything. I remained to be torn between my pragmatic self — live and let die — and my reflective self — my dad is indispensable. The dilemma shut me up. My other brother clammed up as well. We ended up having what turned out to be a futile discussion. The object of our attention was not even in that room anymore. He had already stepped out and had been anxious to leave. I remember the trip back to the house being a lot less energetic, due to a sense of deflation. We had gone to he hospital expecting something good but had gone back to the house frustrated and defeated.

My dad is indispensable but I can only do so much to prevent him from choosing to make himself so. He knows he has a death sentence if he doesn’t do it and yet, he maintains his fatal stance. He is dying off his own decision and he is killing us along with it. A big part of ourselves dies when he dies. We are already all dying together, for now, painlessly, with each anxious moment. Life, as you know it, unfolds its ending, in every waking moment.

I said farewell to him before flying back to NY. Our hands touched each other in a clasp for a few seconds before the van sped off. It was the most poignant moment we’ve had in a long time. For a man who hasn’t said much in 28 years, moreso, act out how he felt, that heartfelt touching was a welcome surprise. It was more than a meaningful gesture, it was a testament to the hope that remained in him. I believe it was a sign that he still has a few surprises left in him. He may choose death now, but I would like to believe that he remains to grapple with the decision that will affect him and his family. I would like for him to pull off another surprise, an even bigger one this time. That is where my hope is.