Sunday, March 14, 2010

remembering the tinman, finale

i started this series early 2009 and lost interest in finishing it. last month, a mutual friend told me that M got married recently. i thought, that’s a good reason to finish this story. to close the book symbolically, so to speak.

although much can still be told about this affair that spanned more than 2 years across 2 continents, i thought i should end with the start of the end. we met again a few times after this episode in london, but i never felt the same way about him after this.

for those who are interested, the story started here.

ten years ago, london – by the river thames

cranes. i noticed these modern apparatus as i look at the london city skyline. they spring from the gaps of ancient buildings that seem to be oblivious of their presence and are complacent of their places in this world. the city was replete with these giant mechanical limbs with what seemed to be an effort to resist its limits. wanting to grow bigger. newer. greater. i look at the metal arms reaching out to the grey skies and feel something within me calling out its affinity with their spirit. i, too, would like to reach out and burst away from myself.

i think the cranes are doing a better job.

i turned to the street musician who kept on playing his poignant song despite the drizzle in the cold grey afternoon. tourists passed by and acknowledged his efforts with loose change without really looking at him or listening to his song. he punctuated his rendition of don’t let me be lonely tonight with ‘thank you!’ every time a coin dropped at his guitar case spread before him. i wonder what’s more important to him, for people to give him money or listen to his song. his voice was more kenny rogers than james taylor. i’ll be damned if that gives me a clue to his motivation. besides, i’ve got no loose change.

framing him was hms belfast. the gargantuan ship seems world weary from war yet resentful to be docked forever in the river, humiliated to be transformed from peacekeeper (or more accurately war-keeper?) to mere tourist bait.

people, boats and the river moved on and we kept to our places– the musician, the warship and me. lost in a world that moves too fast.

still, his mournful crooning and the ship’s silent resentment provided perfect backdrop for the way i’m feeling. i sit in one of the benches by the river sipping the cappuccino i got from a nearby street-side cafĂ© and tried to ignore that my cigarette is increasingly harder to smoke as it becomes wet from the rain. i have an umbrella in my bag but i didn’t bother to open it. what’s the point? i’m wet already. nothing beats the sitting in the rain-sipping cappuccino-smoking-moping combination when you’re feeling blue anyway.

i put out my already dying wet cigarette in my paper cup realising too late that i wanted that last sip of cappuccino.


i tore my gaze from the musical tableau and turned to look for something cheerful. an asian couple was kissing passionately framed by the tower bridge, like us, unmindful of the rain. unlike us, however, their entwined form presented a picture hallmark cards are made of. i felt the equal parts sinking and bursting sensation in the pit of my stomach.

it’s not fair for my 7 wonderful sunny days in england to be ruined by one single event. i met with M. and today it started raining.

the night before

after having dinner at my friend’s flat in wimbledon, M and i took a walk to have some privacy.

can you believe this?’ he said pointing out to a picture of a flat for sale for a hundred thousand pounds as we passed by a real estate office. ‘i hate these people tying themselves up for life for a piece of property.

‘M, why are you so angry

what?!’ he asked getting angrier.

since you arrived, throughout dinner, and now. all you did is complain about things. the underground, the people of london, the bus driver, my friends. we haven’t seen each other for almost three months, can’t you just chill and be happy?

i don’t know what you are talking about.

we continued walking in silence until we passed by a churchyard.

let’s go inside and sit on the grass.’

we sat in silence for a short while. after a few minutes he reached out wihtout a word. he kissed me without saying anything. soon things got heavy and he was pinning me down on the grass, dry humping me in the dark. i pulled back.

someone can walk by anytime,’ i said feebly.

you look so hot with your blonde hair. reminds me of a korean footballer i saw on the telly,’ he said reaching out for my hand and rubbing it against his distended crotch.

let’s go back to the flat.’ i said standing up.

we went back and fucked the whole night. at one point he smoked a cigarette and bent over an open window. i entered him from behind, thinking i didn’t really like him. anymore.

the morning after

she thought you are coming to stay and will refuse to leave,’ M was explaining why his girlfriend whose living room in greenwich we were sitting at won’t meet me.

and you believed her?’ i asked, fighting back the urge to hurt him. if only to make him feel the pain i was feeling inside. i don’t know what was more hurting, the idea that he thinks so lowly of me or that the prospect of me insinuating myself into his life is so frightening for him.

i didn’t. but i didn’t know what to think. and you always were so hectic about us. i don’t know...’ his voice faded mid-sentence.

again, the silence.

i was thinking that after my detached thoughts during sex the night before, the morning seemed to offer a different picture. when he woke up, he invited me to see where he lives (with his girlfriend), took me to greenwich where he showed me the maritime museum, the meridian and cutty sark. then we had lunch at the weekend market before we went to his place. we were having one of those once familiar bromance-with-benefits time that showed definite glimpses of the reason why i fancied myself in love with him. until he had to talk about his girlfriend and how he might get married. which was fine, only he felt he needed to justify this by saying hurtful things.

‘i think i should go,’ i said - getting up to leave. ‘i’ll let myself out.

he also got up and caught up with me at the door, and touched my arm.

don’t be like this.’ he said, when i stopped, trying to catch my eye.

and exactly how should i be like?’ i said without looking at him.

i waited for a few seconds, when he didn’t answer i pulled away.

‘goodbye, M.

as i was walking to the train station i felt i wanted to burst out of myself. i thought, i can’t see my friends like this, i should wait, take a walk till i calm down.

i took a train to westminster, and took a walk by the river thames.

i noticed the cranes.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

one song, glory?

tell me, did you want to be a rock star?

like millions of boys (and girls) before and after me, i wanted to be a rock star once. ok maybe not a rock star of the led zep, ac/dc, aerosmith genre. more dylan, amos & difranco. you know, the singer-songwriter vibe.

i was thinking of this erstwhile fantasy because because last friday, my former band had a reunion gig of sorts in a place where it all started.

here’s the back-story:

i was working in an NGO that was exploring various ways to educate and campaign on issues and one path that was explored was through music. they hired a staff known for his musical abilities to be a musical director (although his ‘official’ title was ‘popular educator’) and bought a complete set of instruments and sound system for a band. one night, they gathered all those who fancy themselves musical and got them to do their stuff with the instruments. fancying myself as a back-up singer, i tried backing somebody in U2’s ‘with or without you’. the musical director took the mic away from the lead singer and gave it to me. he then declared i was the vocalist of the band.

we had a good run, our band. we performed in big places like PICC (for the former president erap) and quirino grandstand (on one earth day). unexpected places like on top of a moving truck (on a campaign against constitutional change) or in an inhabited island (for a environmental youth group in el nido). in expected places like basketball courts (in bulacan) and artists’ watering holes (in quezon city). in far flung areas like a farming barrio (in nueva ecija) or in a mountain (in ifugao).

there were memorable performances that can measure up to any audition tape in american idol. once, while performing in a townhall in kidapawan, all the speakers started burning (literally) and conked out. i went down to the audience, asked the band to continue playing (using their own amps) and asked everybody to sing chapman’s ‘baby can i hold you tonight’ with me. (think bette midler in 'for the boys' candlelight ps. i love you' scene. diva, against the odds-like.)

some say i had stage presence. one evidence of this is on one performance in a beach in albay, a fisherman came up the stage gave me a flower and kissed me on the cheek. the band (all straight boys by the way) stopped unbelieving. i motioned for them to continue playing and threw the flower back to the audience. ok, (for those old enough) it was reminiscent of b-list singers getting leis from paid audiences in 70s noontime variety shows. but the band didn't let me live it down for more than a year.

in our heyday we were approached by every major recording company of the time – sony, bmg, wea – you name it. while the band accepted offers to talk (for the free beers) not one was seriously pursued for the fear of selling-out. losing integrity.

time passed.

i left the NGO to join government and had not time for the band anymore. one by one, they also left. the band had various incarnations and renaming. until it was too difficult to keep it going.

in the pre-departure briefing on my way to volunteer in rural Africa, we had an exercise in listing down who are we leaving behind that we will miss. the band ranked third to the family and bestfriends’ first and second.

last friday, i was reminded again how much i miss them.

whenever people tell me i should be doing something related to the arts, i smile. i wish i did. but i have been doing this NGO/development stuff for 20 years. this is what i am really good at as opposed to something i can potentially be good at. after all, how many of us turned out to be the person we wanted to be when we were growing up?

in my time in the band, i wrote one song. i performed it once. we never recorded it. i can’t even remember the melody nor all the lyrics now.

so much for the singer-songwriter fantasy. or to borrow from ‘rent’:

one song
a song about love
from the soul of a young man, a young man

i’ve grown old.

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