Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Neighborhood (continued)

Haunted House
We shoot birds from its rooftop with a bb-gun.  Bored, Joe, Mike and I scan the vacant yard and street.  We creep the front yard past the chestnut tree and overgrown laurel.  Up dilapidated steps, we encounter a locked entrance.

The mansion dwarfs all neighborhood homes.  Rumors abound that a wealthy tycoon built it for his wife.   After he died, she abandoned it.  The wooden roof and south wall collapsed, leaving the pigeons to tenant the upper floor. 

Sixth graders from Immaculate, Mike challenges us to break in.   Joe and I suck up our courage, slam our shoulders against the door forcing it open.   Flashlights in hand, we enter to an audience of spiderwebs, dust and rats.   We forge ahead through spooked halls into a large dining room.   I imagine gala parties and ballroom dances.

Fishing Trips
Maryknoll Church sponsored Troop 7, comprised mostly of Japanese and Filipino boys.  Tommy Kobayashi, our scoutmaster, demonstrates how to tie knots and cook over an open fire.  He organizes camping trips.  On one outing, we overnight at American Lake.  He fashions bamboo pools and illustrates how to fish with chamois.   From a dock, I cast my line and troll the water.   I catch my first crappie.

Fred Takahashi’s dad, Gentaro, also fishes.  He rents a boat and rows us into Green Lake.  We could barely see through the early fog.  He baits our lines with salmon row and worms.  Calls it “ham and eggs.”   We limit.

Edrie Beltran takes Joe and me fishing on the Snoqualmie River near Fall City.  His Uncle Modesto owns a farm along the banks.   We carry fine poles with reels.   For bait we gather periwinkles from a nearby creek.   The rainbow strike hard.

Dad and I salmon fish Elliott Bay near the Duwamish Head.   We motor in a small boat among the swarm of others.  We bob and toss the cool salt water but don’t catch a thing.   It was okay.   He showed me how to tie a leader.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Pinoy Heroes

         I waited in our old Pontiac while my father disappeared into the grey tenement.   I knew he wouldn’t be long because this had become our weekend ritual.   A few minutes later, he emerged with two familiar, bronzed-faced Filipinos, Manongs or Uncle’s Eddie and Pablo. I  was twelve and we were going to watch baseball at Sick’s Stadium.  They always treated me.

   They were family and bachelors.   There were many single men in our community because of restrictive immigration laws.   I didn’t know at that time few Filipinas were allowed in the country.  Men entered more easily because America needed inexpensive field and factory laborers.  The thought was they’d return to the Philippines at the conclusion of their working days.  

   “Hello, Manong!”   I greeted each.

   They dressed immaculately in cardigans and pressed slacks.   Their shoes shone from a recent buffing and they smelled of sweet cologne.   They shed the look of the janitors they were during the week.   They were elegant!

   We never drove directly to the ballpark.   Instead, we stopped for lunch at Al’s Casino on Second Avenue, minutes away from Local 37, the union hall that processed Pinoys for the Alaska canneries.   Men hung out waiting to be dispatched as butchers, slimers and warehousemen.  Al’s was popular for it’s Filipino favorites – adobo, rice, pancit.

   The casino lay below street level.  We entered a stairwell sandwiched between two pawnshops, it's windows flush with watches, guitars and jewelry, cast off by the desperate.

   We descended the shadowed stairwell to the combination restaurant and poolhall.   Mahogany men filled the smoke-shrouded room.  Small groups stood around chatting.  Some shot nine-ball while others played rummy at the tables scattered throughout the room.  Sparse lighting emanated from shaded lamps, hung from the ceiling.  Odors from cigars, cigarettes, cologne and the cuisine blended and permeated the air.  We crossed the room and sat at the narrow, wood-paneled counter.   It wasn’t long before men sauntered over.

   “Tst!  Bicente, dis your boy?”  they asked my father in island-thick accents, 'th's transmuted to 'd's and 'f's became 'p's. 

   After nodding “yes”, my father, Pablo, Eddie and the men slipped comfortably into Tagalog – relief from their broken English.   I listened not understanding.

   “You e’t?” they questioned me.

   “Adobo!  Inihaw!”  they ordered the savory marinated meat dishes though I hadn’t responded.  “And, Chinese broccoli.”  My nose crinkled.

   “It’s good por you!”  my father injected, knowing my aversion to vegetables.  This was his constant admonishment to my siblings and me whenever we’d turn our noses up at a meal.   That or he’d launch into a story about the poor orphans in the Philippines.

   “More rice, cook!"  the men continued.   “We hab a growing boy!”

   “You like baseboll?”  another queried, placing his strong hand on my shoulder.

   “I nodded.  "Going to see the Rainiers today.”

   “Who’s your paborite player?”

   “Balcena!”  I smiled.  I knew that Bobby Balcena, the “Filipino Flyer” was the right answer. He played outfield for the Seattle Rainiers in the mid -50s and was our hero.   He’d appear at community lunches and dinners to autograph baseballs for kids.   I hoped to play just like him someday,

   “You go to school?”  the subject changed.

   “Yes, Manong.  Sixth grade at Immaculate.”

   “What you learn?”

   “Reading, arithmetic, spelling…I really enjoy reading.”

   “Good.”  added one.  “I nebber hab dat chance.   Always work the pields…pick asparagus in Calipornia…salmon in da canneries.   Alaska!  Blood money!    Here’s somet’ing por your education.”   He slipped five dollars into my hand.  “I jus’ gambol, anyway.”

    “Thank you, manong.”  I tucked the money into my pants-pocket.

   “I nebber hab dat chance, boy.   You study.”   He whispered before returning to a pool table across the room.

    An hour passed.  My father and uncles completed their lunch and conversation.   They shook hands with their compadres.   “Mabuhay, goodbye.  See you next Saturday.”

    Some of the men followed us the stairwell but no further,  as if they faced another prohibition that restricted them from climbing.   They drifted slowly back to their games of pool and rummy…occasionally peeking over their shoulders to glimpse our departure.   Others returned to the counter…to the comfort of shared dialect.  We climbed the stairs, entered the warm light and clean air, leaving behind that crowded purgatory. My father, uncles and I left for the ballgame.  We went to bask in the sun.

·      Pinoy is derived slang for Filipino.
·      Manong is a respected uncle.

Alaska Series (continued)

The Fishhouse
Willie, head butcher, jerks the pneumatic lever for the overhead bin.  Fish swirl the counter like holiday shoppers.  He whirls and twirls sockeyes, silvers and humpies…draws tails; spins bodies. Organizes them for the Iron Chink.  Musters them to line and guillotine.

Down chained conveyer, fish carcass rotate 'round a drum of knives.  Circle, twist and turn…pirouette blades. Guts and fins shear away.   Flung upon a slimming table, their final entrails cut away.

I admire Willie for the long hours he works ‘til the cutting’s complete.

One day he says:  “Now, you try.”

Alaska Series No. 6

Manong Ralph Agbalog
He enters our room. Perfumed and pomaded hair.
Sports a cardigan sweater.  Seats himself on my bunk. 
Eyes Linda’s picture.  “You marry?”

In conversation, I learn he’d killed a man
over a gambling debt.  “Punched him in the jaw.
Dropped him on a curb.  Hit his head.  Manslaughter.”

He tries to teach me pai gow which I don’t get. 
“Better, you don’t understand.”

Alaska Series No. 7

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Neighborhood

Raiders of the Last Tart

Catholic Memorial Field covered three quarters of the block below our house.  Archdiocesan schools played football and, later in high school, I ran track there.  The northern quarter served as a parking lot for Langendorf Bakery, a few blocks away.   The company parked their trucks on the level section, leaving the adjacent hillside wild with trees and shrub.

Curious neighborhood kids, we soon discovered they left their trucks unguarded, unlocked and complete with donuts, cinnamon rolls and banana cream shortcakes.Weekends arrived.  We slunk in small bands through the bush.  Slid open the doors to heaven.  Attacked in small packs like ravenous wolves before vanishing.

Boat Races

Mrs. Matsudaira enjoyed her backyard coi pond.  She connected two ovals and bridged the intersecting passage between the smaller and deeper basins with a small log.  The fish bartered between the water grass and lilypads that filled them.

Vincent, her son, and I carved hydroplanes from plywood.  Powered them with small paddles and rubberbands.  We painted and numbered them like the ones that raced Lake Washington.   We matched ours in his mother’s pond where the course was straight.

In those halcyon days, dad parked on the bluff overlooking Mt. Baker Park.  With Manongs Eddie and Pablo, we clambored down the gardened hillside to watch Slo-mo-shuns, Gales, Wahoo and Maverick loop ‘round the course.

When we were older, Vincent and I crafted wooden models.   Fitted our hydros with two-stroke engines.  I painted mine maroon and gold.  We biked to Stan Sayers Pits where a large pond was built for competition.  Tethered to a pole, they circled until empty of gas.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Alaska Series (continued)

Cookie welcomes us to his mess hall.  
A stocky Filipino, he wears an apron over t-shirt.
“Hot muck-a-lucka-sigh!”  he laughs.
Coffee and lunch served, rooms assigned,
we climb to upper floor. Rummy and pai gow tables
full with seasoned Alaskeros greet us.
We unpack.  Sweep. Carve our beings
into plywood walls.

“Bob loves Linda. 1963”

Alaska Series No. 4

5:30 a.m. King Cove
Mr. Acena, our foreman, wears Vaquero Stetson and Mackinaw.
Traipses hallway. Calls to each room —

“Get up boys!  Get up!  Time to go!”

Breakfast. Cookie prepares eggs, ham and hot “ mucka-lucka-sigh,
-  colorful coffee word.

 Mr. Acena orders,  “Young boys, you go slime!

We don rubber suits.  Waddle to stations.  Three butchers straddle an Iron Chink,
separating salmon heads and tails.  Slimers gauntlet tables, gutting the remains.

“Blood money!Hard work!”

Alaska Series No. 5

Down to Sea

Down to Sea

Teens at a game
stream constant current of chatter.
Swift at the banks, heedless of land,
they whirlpool,
birling with strayed friends
unseen since earlier.
Conversations ripple cell-phoned ears.
Companions ebb and flow as flotsam,
bursting apart to surge downriver.
They have yet to run the rapids
where driftwood litters shore
and boned logs snag.
The river will broaden,
course to sea...
a sea that will never fill.

"Down to Sea" appears in the Spring 2010 edition of Soundings Review.  I wrote this after watching a high school football game where kids swirled back and forth in energetic clusters along the walkway beneath us.  They appeared to be totally uninterested in the game.  

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sixteenth Avenue

Seattle’s Sixteenth Ave’ teems
with dream-dawn neighbors
from immigrant lands.
We gather in shared schools…
Immaculate, Maryknoll, O’Dea
and Garfield.

Spring and summers crowd
with capture-the-flag, touch football
or shooting the “pill”
until the hoop disappears with dusk.
We twist, stomp, slow dance to 45s
“In the Still of the Night…”
We drive and make-out in Seward Park.

We ride the 27 Yesler for a swim
In Lake Washington until Matsudaira’s
buy a black ’57 Ford
and Joe and Ed drive us.

Years later, I score a ’56 2-door Bel-Air Chevy.
Copper with glass pacs, silver moons and rims.
I was cool too.

Dance Lessons

We rush home after school.  Watch American Bandstand.
Dick Clark emcees songs, singers and performers.
We get to know the Philly kids as they Strand, Twist and Bop.
Roy raves about Bunny Gibson, a slim blonde.
I find Arlene d’Pietro, an Italian brunette, more attractive.
Program ended, we play 45s and imitate their steps.
Alone in the evening, I practice with my bedpost.

Weekends arrive, we find a dance with a live band.
The Stags, our favorite since we know the musicians.
They play “Louie, Louie,” “Blue Moon” or “J.A.J.
We rock, stomp and Pony to “A Quarter to Three.”
Better yet, grind in slow dance
and rarely move a step.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Alaska Series

In the early '60s, I spent four summers in King Cove, Alaska where I worked as part of the Filipino crew. Filipino men had trekked north since the '20s and '30s  where they'd canned King, Silver, Reds, Chum and Pink salmon.   Now, most of them were elders who we affectionately called "Manongs" or uncles.  My uncle Bob and my father had all made this journey.   I penned these works as part of a coming of age and as a tribute to those pioneers who made it possible to attend college.  The following poems are included in a forthcoming anthology about the Asian American Experience from the University of Santa Cruz.

Boeing Field -  1963
A summer evening, my folks drive us to Boeing Field.
Linda and I silently sit the back seat.   
My first time to the canneries.  Mahogany men cram the airport.
Their hard, brown Pinoy faces rim the waiting area.
“Young boys” like me cluster in close uncertainty.
I squeeze her picture tight against my chest.  
In my duffle, the Four Tops and Righteous Brothers. 
We hug goodbyes before I board for Cold Bay.  
A final kiss. I cross the tarmac.
Fly north.
Alaska Series No. 2

Becoming Alaskero

We depart Boeing Field, wedged among
Manong migrants blown north to can salmon …
their summer hiatus from asparagus fields
and almond orchards.  Our Reeve Aleutian circles
Cold Bay’s fog-laced clutch of corrugated huts,
nestled on grizzled ground and shrub-terrain. 
We descend into our frigid cloud breaths.
Huddle in warm pool hall.   Like netted fish,
we wait a tender bound for King Cove.

Alaska Series No. 3

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


I shiver down the snowy path along dark, frozen wall to Panel 55W – Line 28.  Thirty years before, we dragged on cigarettes and shared our shipmate dreams.  You of Nam service and me of going home.
I manned the Bridge as phone talker when the blaze began.  Trapped in After Steering, you screamed.   I ordered silence on the line.   Damage Control quelled the flames.   Days later, you found me on the fantail.   We smoked and talked… said we did what we were trained to do.  Fire forged us….bound us by chance.  Desiring action, you volunteered for Swifts.  Dangerous, I thought.  Months later in battle on the Mekong, your boat’s destroyed.   Thrown overboard, you drowned.

I see your name among the 60,000.  My fingers slow…slow across the etched black granite.   Life extended… then, extinguished.   I ascend the path, breathe the frigid air and reminisce the icy senselessness.

  In January 1998, I attended a conference in Washington D.C..   My hotel was a brief walk to the Vietnam Memorial.   I visited and was moved by as I wandered among the 58,195 names who bravely gave their lives.  Gunners Mate 3rd Class Marcus Eugene Cline and I served together briefly on the USS McMorris DE-1036 in 1967-68.  He died 24 June 1968.

Monday, March 21, 2011

"Daniel's Mood - Mestizos", my play, was recently published by XLibris.  The protagonist, Maricela, a Filipino immigrant in the mid-60s, escapes a violent domestic situation with her son, Agustin.  They move to Seattle where she becomes a reporter.  She encounters Daniel, a young Filipino teenager while taking Agustin to a youth program.   She's concerned about the loss of family and culture and fears her son will become like his father.  Daniel helps them resolve their situation.  The play is available through several sources including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

(A spotlight comes up on Maricela.  
She sits on a small bed at front center stage. The bed is furnished with a coarse blanket and a pillow. There’s a second bed in the
                                                                                             dark behind her where Agustin sleeps.)

MARICELA (Monologue)
See my boy sleeping as if nothing has happened. He’s my lifeline. I would die if he wasn’t with me. He doesn’t understand. He had to leave school…his friends. I wish I could have changed that. I told myself he was young and would make new ones. He missed his father. Strange. Missed the man who beat him. I fear he’ll turn out like my husband. Agustin’s growing. I worry. In the community, he’s mestizo…half white and half Filipino. He won’t fit in.

Agustin and I found a shelter. There were other women. Blacks. Whites. Some with children. I was the only Filipina. Our room was small…dark. Cold. We kept the windows closed so no one could see us. We were invisible. Our nights filled with endless crying. Women wept. Children wept. We shared bathrooms…meals. The house was full but we were alone. We stayed a few weeks. Tried to figure out what to do…where we’d go. I was afraid.

I thought about ama and inay, my parents. What would they say? I’m ashamed. So very ashamed. I failed…my marriage failed…I’m failing my son. I cannot tell them. They wouldn’t understand. They wouldn’t forgive. There’s no one.

I couldn’t sleep. I thought my husband would report me. I stayed awake listening for a knock on the door. I’d thought I’d be arrested…deported. They would send Agustin to my husband. I’d never see my son again. I pulled the covers over my head. 

The agency helped. They said we’d be safer if we left the city. We could disappear. They made arrangements for us to go to Seattle. I knew there was a large Filipino community there. I thought I might make friends and find support.  

I wanted to start over. Needed to get out. I wanted a chance for Agustin. I wanted to be with my family. That wasn’t possible but I could find my community. At least, there would be people who understood…who ate the same food…spoke my language. I missed the chatter of family life.

Maybe things will change. I can only hope and pray. I say a rosary each night. (Picks up her rosary and holds it to her chest.) It was my mother’s…all I have left. God will help. The Holy Mother will help. I have to believe. (Begins to pray.) Hail Mary full of grace…..

                                                      (Lights down. End of Monologue)