Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Am I Really Gonna Eat That?

It was 1966 and I was with my (Army) outfit, briefly in the Philippines, at Subic Bay to be more precise. Those of you who were there before the U.S. departed will remember Olongapo fondly. Yes you do, you know you do. For the rest of you, Olongapo was right outside the naval base. When you left the base you were greeted by a thoroughfare that went bar, hotel, bar, hotel, on both sides for perhaps a half or three quarters of a mile. Then the street forked left and right, and both of those streets looked pretty much the same. At least, this is how I remember it.

You could ride anywhere on a jitney - an open air vehicle with bench seats running front to back and seating eight or ten people - for a quarter. You'd just hail it, hop in, give up your quarter, and wait through the stops for other passengers until you were wherever it was you wanted to be.

I was downtown with my best friend, Al, and at some point we wound up in the Orchid Bar. It was early evening and things were still a little slow, but that would change. We made friends with the band, an all male Filipino group, mostly Beach Boys imitators. There's little chance I'll ever remember the name of the band with any certainty (The Cobras?), but the members were Vic, Buen, Bert, Boy, and Angie (their real names). I believe I have a photo around here somewhere, showing the band, Al, me, and possibly some girls. If there are girls in the picture, they would be bar girls who worked there and just hopped into the scene on their own.

There was a curfew for the U.S. military, midnight I think but I'm not certain. If you were on the streets after that the Shore Patrol would haul you back to the base and you would be written up. Punishment, or lack of it, would depend on your Commanding Officer. Sometime before the curfew Al and I paired up with two girls who shared a house. We took them to dinner, then a little bar hopping, then home.

In the morning they fed us "breakfast." The four of us sat around a table where the girls placed four beers (San Miguel) and four bowls of cold rice. I'm not sure exactly what was in the rice, but one of the ingredients was small, white, and moving!

There's no way I'm going to eat this. I stalled by taking a sip of my beer. The girls began eating and I looked at Al, who looked alternately at his bowl and at me. I mean how do you deal with this? You don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but still . . . .

Then I saw Al shrug and start eating. Oh, great. Well, to cut to the chase, peer pressure is a powerful force and three people were eating. I ate mine. All of it. Making sure the moving protein went into my mouth with something else and not alone. And taking a swig of beer after every mouthful of food.

I have my suspicions but I don't really know what I ate, and for a long time I definitely didn't want to know, but that was more than forty years ago and I suppose it wouldn't bother me much to learn now.


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