Florentino

We called him Tino. Our family did. I wish I had a picture of him to show you. This guy with an all greased up hair much like the Fonz‘s. Except he’s short. Not quite intimidating, I don’t think. In fact, you’d hardly notice him when he’s mixed in with the crowd. He was never the center of attention nor did he aspire to be one.

But to me, he was.

The guy was always around. When I was growing up, that is. Always present. Always visible. More importantly, he was ready, willing and able to do whatever, really. A dedicated and sacrificial man. Simple but trustworthy. And a funny one at that! Seriously, he didn’t have to crack a joke to get you rolling on the floor laughing. His mere presence and toothless smiles did the trick easily. He was the person you laughed at. At his own expense, in fact. And he loved it. During my college days, my brother and I, along with our friends, would hang out while Tino tagged along. He was the life of the party many a time. I remember my brother and I pulling pranks at him. Like, when he’s driving us to go some place, and suddenly someone cuts him off in traffic or something, he would get really ticked off, right? We knew, at this second, that he would want to chase the guy, if only to holler some inappropriate words at him. Then, in a fraction of a second, my brother and I would glance at each other as I covertly slide the gear stick into neutral. And then… vvvvvrrrrrrooooooommm!!!!

That moment alone would keep us laughing hysterically for a few days straight. Tino, included.

The memories seem endless. I would not have the time or energy to go down the list. But there were special moments that stuck with me forever. I remember when I was about four years old, I was just beginning to learn about life. Tino would be there to hang out with me and tell me stories and things about the realities of life. He would tell me that there are actually bullies in school. And this was months away from my being enrolled in Kindergarten! Great!

I can never forget that one day we were sitting together at our house, just talking. He revealed to me a very dark reality that I came to know him by, to this day. He told me that everyone dies at some point in time. That one day, though hopefully it would take very long, all of us will come to pass and will be no more. My very first “aha” moment, I suppose. And I remember vividly, this was the time my mom would come to interject, being the good Catholic that she is…

“Tino is right. However, you must not commit a mortal sin, ever! No forgiveness there, I tell ya! Venial sins? Well, you have about a hundred points to your credit, little boy. The first ten is okay. Use it up wisely though. Because after that, it’s Limbo time. It’s boring there, I heard. And the next ninety shouldn’t be wasted either. Or else, you’ll be spending eternity with some very ugly guys inside a big hot oven.”

Oooohhh! Let me tell you, that freaked me out so bad, I got good in math if only for that reason!

Anyhow, back to Tino. I almost forgot to mention. He was our family’s hired chauffeur. Yep, I consider myself lucky, not only because we had one growing up, but we also had the best. He worked for us from when I was born until after I graduated from college. He drove me to and back from kindergarten school. He also drove me back home, one too many times, hammered from an all-night college party. He was definitely family.

When I moved to California, we lost touch. Apparently. My siblings and I were all grown up now and living on our own. From what I had heard, he had moved on to other things as there was no longer a family for him to tend to. That job for him was well over with. Yet, very well done, I must say.

Those were the days. And it’s long been gone.

Tino had passed now. Just a few years back, if I can remember correctly. However, what I can remember for sure is what my family told me. They said that he had mentioned to them that he was always waiting for me to come back home. But that he couldn’t wait any longer now. Shortly thereafter, he was gone. I can’t remember how many days I spent in tears after that. I missed him. And yes, I miss him today.

Every once in a while, a glimpse of a memorable childhood such as this one would come to me, for no reason, and make me remember how blessed I truly am for having spent my formative years with such inspirational people as Tino. It continually helps me to grow as a person. It’s a constant reminder that life, no matter how hard it gets, is always good. A blessing in disguise, even.

Faster than the speed of life

My mom had a huge family. If I’m not mistaken, originally, there were 15 siblings, all in all. I’m not kidding, our Christmas parties in the 70’s used to be bigger than the entire neighborhood itself. And, I had fond memories of those days.

Today, only four of them are left. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to God for keeping my mom, not only alive, but very well, to this day. Her family history isn’t exactly what I would call pleasant. In fact, it is extremely tragic, in my opinion. I believe, two of her siblings died from birth; another two would die unexpectedly at different times; one would be kidnapped, never to be seen again; and, still another one would be murdered in his sleep.

Sometimes, I feel for my mom. It’s not her fault. But what a waste of life, I thought.

Today, I thought of one of her brothers. An uncle of mine whom I’ve only known from a distance. We were never close, for some reason. However, he was one whom I thought had started out with an incredibly blessed life. To start, he had married into a ridiculously wealthy family. They ran thriving Vegas-style businesses such as casinos and night clubs (remember those?), among others. I remember when I was little, we used to get invited to my cousins’ birthday parties. And I would overhear phone conversations regarding the party plan; that we would bring certain gifts, arrive at a certain time, and that it would be held at the white house. The white house? Oh, it’s what my uncle’s place was fondly called back then. When I saw it for the first time, sure enough, those gigantic Greek pillars made it seem like it was a presidential mansion, indeed. And if that wasn’t enough, there were Cadillacs on one side and a couple more on the other whose names sounded a bit German and Italian to me. But what really blew my mind, was that my five year old cousin’s bedroom was big enough to play ball in without actually breaking a China. I mean, it was unspeakably huge! I never forgot that to this day.

Years have passed since, and I haven’t heard much from or about him and his family until fairly recently. My sister had told me that he eventually became so stinking rich. Needless to say, he had also fallen into the usual traps that money brings, such as substance abuse, gambling and marital unfaithfulness. He had a child out of one of his affairs. His marriage eventually came to an end and was kicked out of the (white) house. He lost all his money and was homeless for years. I was told that he camped out in the back of his old beat-up Lincoln Continental. Though, usually, it was just parked somewhere for long periods of time, because he didn’t have money for gas. That is, unless someone (like my sister’s husband. God bless him) actually thought of him, paid him a visit and handed him some cash, just so he could eat.

To make a long story short, things didn’t improve one bit. In fact, he died abruptly. The doctor said his lungs were black like charcoal. He was in his late fifties, I think. And, it was just a few years ago.

What a tragic story. Though, much like with my relationship with him, I could only mourn his death from a distance. I think of his life. The beauty. The abuse. And, the pain. I can only imagine.

I remember the few times I had to come up to greet him during family occasions. I was always terrified. He wasn’t exactly the approachable type. He was way up there and I was way down here. As if I wasn’t worthy of him. Even to this day, when I think of those times, I feel awkward about it.

But what does it matter now? He’s gone. Life is so quick. Though, I’m learning that sometimes, we can easily live life faster than we should. Whatever happened to stopping and smelling the coffee? Or was it the roses? I’m definitely in no position to judge my late uncle. But when I thought about him today, I couldn’t help but think of a parallel universe. Maybe, he could have been more grateful for what he was given in the beginning. Parents who broke their backs to afford him a good life and education. A beautiful and wealthy wife that truly loved him for who he was. Beautiful children who desperately needed him to be the example of how life should be lived. And, even luxury that one can only ever dream of. If this was the case, maybe things would’ve turned out different for him. And for everyone else involved.

I mean, he had the cake, the icing and the cherry on top! If only I could pick the crumbs from under the table, I’d be in heaven.

But maybe, I’m really the lucky one here. Because I do not have the unnecessary distractions that could keep me from slowing down and enjoying life at a pace that was meant for me. I wake up in the morning and remember to smell my coffee before taking a sip. Much like I remember to smell my food before I start to eat. Much like I remember to close my eyes before I listen to music. Much like I remember to drive slower so I can enjoy my trip. And be safe, at the same time.

I believe, if we don’t go faster than the speed of life, it can give us a lot more than we can ever ask for.

A stranger in my hometown

It was a year ago today (Actually, three days ago, but who’s counting?), since my trip back home to Manila. I feel sad that I’m not able to go this time. And it doesn’t help to think either, that before that, the last time I was home was in 1987.

You would then think ,that last year’s trip was nothing short of a joyous and momentous occasion. And it was. I am grateful, indeed. But maybe, it was my divorce right around the same time which made the trip a little bit of a blur now, as well.

I actually felt so bad also, that I hardly remembered the city I grew up in. The streets seemed narrower. And the traffic, unfathomable! The population, doubled. Half of them trying to cross the superhighway! Yikes! And, is that our house? You gotta be kidding me! But it was. And the food! I enjoyed it very much. Unfortunately, the ol’ beloved flavors seemed to have left my palate. Oddly, most of them tasted almost foreign to me. I was left wondering if this was, in fact, the same food I grew up eating.

One day, my brother drove me to my old high school and university. Wait, wasn’t this the football field? What’s this building doing down here, then?

For the first time, I had met my sister-in-law, my niece, my nephew and a few cousins too. For the first time! Where have I been? My dad is now sporting a cane? He used to be Robert DeNiro in Goodfellas. What happened? I’m glad, though, that my mom is still the same ol’ spunky woman she’s always been! The only one that has not changed or aged a single minute, I’m not even kidding, was my old pal, Buddy! Best friend since third grade. He’s still the same ol’ crazy redhead who’s more concerned about his Nikon camera than life itself! I love the guy.

But today, I am left with nothing but memories. Although, I had a great time then, I was sad. Still sad, as a matter of fact. Sad because I could’ve enjoyed it even more but I didn’t. Sad because I could’ve given to my family more but I didn’t. And sad because I seemed to have forgotten a lot about home.

Yes, I was a stranger in my hometown.

So far so good

Greetings everyone. First of all, belated Merry Christmas. And if I’m not able to respond again soon, Happy New Year as well.

Obviously, I have not been able to follow up on my blog lately as my schedule and current location does not allow me to. But you can be rest assured that my first trip back home in twenty years is going absolutely fantastic. One thing I can tell you though, is that I am very well fed, to say the least!

I can’t tell you enough how wonderful (though bitterwseet) it is to actually set foot in the land of my youth and speak face to face with the people I grew up with once again. Some things have stayed the same but for the most part, everything seems to be new and unrecognizable. I really thought I’d spend most of my time here shedding tears, but to my surprise, everyday seems to be a celebration to simply savor and smile about.

I wish I had time every night to post a blog as every hour (since my plane took off from Denver) seems to bring an eventful surpirse worth sharing in great detail. Unfortunately though, not only am I fully booked, Internet access is extremely limited as well. So bear with me as I wait a while to share with you my experiences. It probably won’t happen until I come back home to the States next month. But trust me, it’s worth waiting for!

Meanwhile, if you’ll excuse me… I have to get back to my “all you can eat” desert binge-fest!

This is it

Well, here it is. The time has come for me to fly back home. I have been so anxious since this morning, it’s crazy! I can’t believe that I was even able to sleep well last night. Which is good, I think. Who knows if I’d be able to sleep a wink in this 24 hour flight I’m about to embark on in about 7 hours from now? But I’m so excited I can’t get myself to do any work at all. I might as well have skipped it today.

This blog isn’t gonna be much since my mind is anywhere but here. But I did want to at least write down something so you know where I’m at, so to speak. It’s almost Christmas and I’m not sure if I’d be able to post another blog till next year. But I really want to chronicle my days as much as possible. If there’s anything worth journaling on, this trip would be it, don’t you think?

Anyhow, like I said, I’ll try my best to find a way to sneak in back here and post something. But if I’m not able to, know that I’m with you in spirit… and that I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.

So, cheers and be good.

Seven days and counting

Time could be both slow and fast at the same time, if you know what I mean. I’m just home watching TV and passing time, then I realized… wow, in exactly one week from now, I’ll be home! Same place I was 20 years ago, in fact. Same place I went to school in. Same place where I made life-long childhood friends in. Same place that made me the person I am today.. for sure!

What a trip! I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to come out of the plane. You know, coming out and feeling the ol’ familiar warm and muggy air, seeing my family for the first time again in that long. And then driving out of the airport and looking through the car window to see how the city had changed throughout the years. Oh yeah, I couldn’t even remember the way back to my old house. I have a dream-like idea of how my old neighborhood looked like back then, but that’s about it.

So indeed, I am very excited. I still don’t know what to expect, though I hope and pray that this trip, if anything, really makes a difference more to others than just myself. This trip is for my family. They’ve waited long enough. And I can’t wait either, so God speed the day.

Seven days and counting…

Two and a half months and counting

SpamJamIt’s October already? Dang, that was quick! It just came to me a few minutes ago while viewing some photos on flickr. I came across a picture of a restaurant in Manila that an American tourist took. It was a Spam restaurant! Fantastic… only in the Philippines, I thought! But more importantly, it made me realize how long it has been since I was last home. I mean, they didn’t have this joint when I was there. Talk about having made some progress! But it definitely made me count the days left till December 15. Yes, it’s the day I go back home for the first time in 20 years.

Uhh no, that wasn’t a typo! Crazy, yes! I don’t know what happened but I’m just so happy that I’m now coming home for the first time since my college days. I have been missing my family, and just plain being home. And to those of you wondering… yes, it is home and will always be, no matter where I am.

Anyhow, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been working on a new CD since spring and I’m still only halfway through. But I have this song I just finished and it talks about my being away from home this long. It’s called “Twenty Years To life.” How appropriate! He he 🙂

Before I sign off, I want to leave you with a link to this song so you can listen to it and, hopefully, feel how I feel. It’s gonna be bittersweet for sure. It already feels that way, in fact.

So… two and a half months and counting? You bet!