I met Bill in 1999. He had just relocated up here in Baguio with his partner, an OFW (overseas Filipino worker). Bill and I instantly got close because of our penchant for good books and good food. Also, we were both out of work, I being in between film projects and he having concluded a tumultuous job as a freelance photojournalist around Southeast Asia.
Regularly, Bill would call me up to keep him company in his townhouse (his partner having gone back to the United States to work) and to cook. It got to be a drag that one evening at a bar in Baguio City Bill and I agreed to go to the market and cook adobo the next day but had thought of inviting some male guests over for lunch. We had checked and double-checked prospective dates but had come up with an empty guest list for some reason or another.
Then, we decided to scout around the bar, befriending the other men. Our sole criterion being: we would invite the males who answered correctly to our multiple-choice question: “Excuse me, anong gusto mo? a) pasta, b) inihaw, c) sinigang, or d) adobo?” Those who answered adobo, we invited for lunch the next day. The weekend after, it was pochero. Same question-and-answer portion. The men did provide us with giddy delight. They were decent at the same time naughty and oh-so-terribly cautious. But oh, how Bill could charm them. He was after all not just extremely good-looking, he was also witty, engaging and had a positive aura about him. This we did to while our time away and to meet new friends in this cold, boring mountain city. Metro Manila has more to offer young, single males the likes of Bill and me.
My good friend Melvin taught me to cook my now much-sought-after chicken-pork adobo. He told me it is a family recipe handed down to him from his older relatives. Melvin’s adobo is like the one in the TV ad — “nanunuot sa sarap” (steeped in flavor). When he first introduced me to his adobo, we exchanged variations on the dish. I told him I grew up with cold adobo that we used to pack during outings to the beach. This cold adobo had potatoes in it. To this day, I still prefer a cold, day-old adobo (with quartered potatoes) eaten with steaming, hot rice. And Melvin quipped: “Ang adobo parang pasta din ‘yan. Puwede kang maglagay ng kung anu-ano basta importante ‘yung suka, toyo, bawang!” (Adobo is just like pasta. You can put any ingredient you want for as long as you cook it in vinegar, soy sauce and garlic). That stuck to me. Adobo ay parang pasta. Once, to impress a French friend, I cooked my chicken-pork adobo including potatoes, boiled quail eggs and olives in the pot a tad laced with honey in lieu of the brown sugar. Pretensiyosa! Pero masarap! (How pretentious! But delicious, anyhow!)
Melvin is an accomplished assistant director for TV commercials. That is his bread and butter, his passion being theater. He is likewise known in theatre circles as a competent actor, dancer, choreographer, production manager, vocalist and director. And needless to say, Melvin is gay. Recently, we had gotten in touch again despite our conflicting schedules to keep abreast of our respective lives. Melvin’s input into the advertising world has paid off. The long, grueling hours that led to years has enabled him to be in a position of relative financial security. He no longer rents a cramped apartment but has moved into a fully-paid townhouse in the south of Manila. He has a car and driver and a stay-in maid. In other words, he is now a senyora. Should he gain more weight and grow a bouffant, he will classify as a matrona. Kidding aside, Melvin’s fervent wish to “complete” his life is having a partner he can share his blessings with.
But wait, Melvin will not settle for just anyone. This prospective mate has to be an equal. He should earn his own keep, be successful (not necessarily in the field of arts or advertising), be loving, neat, funny and have nice feet. Though Melvin has gone steady and dated countless men in Metro Manila, he still has to find that elusive “special one.” We friends like to tease Melvin that he is like that other brother in Of Mice and Men — stifling. For while Melvin has the best of intentions, he does have the propensity to “strangle” his partners, killing the relationships unintentionally. He does acknowledge this and says “that special someone will just have to accept me for what I am!” The long years as production manager and assistant director have probably turned Melvin into a control freak even in his private life.
Dear Melvin, life is indeed a trade-off. For now you have to stay single. When you least expect it, he will come. You have after all built the foundations for a lasting relationship — the house, job security, skills in the kitchen, a generous heart, etc. Because you have built it, he will come.
Raje, on the other hand, never seems to be without a relationship, his first one dating back to college. While we were either serious at school or busy gallivanting with our peer groups, Raje was already into relationships. Now an accomplished production designer in advertising, Raje revels in the freedom his vocation has accorded him. Raje has gone from one fleeting relationship to another through the years. Just like the numerous cell phones he has lost through theft or plain carelessness, Raje’s heart has been pricked, toyed with, tested, ignored, diverted, dropped, clawed, pried open, swapped, upgraded, deserted. At present Raje’s heart is patiently nurtured by his boyfriend and left free to beat at its own pace.
Raje is probably the only friend I have who can juggle a full-time relationship with enough room to fool around on occasion. At the same time he can be honest and frank to his lover about such dalliances. While Raje is in demand in advertising he manages to commune with his lover on a weekly basis and also go on “harmless” dates/escapades with other men. The common factor among his past and present men is that they are usually younger and shorter if not as tall as he is and are most of all boyishly handsome. Unlike Melvin, Raje’s men are, to quote E.M. Forster’s Maurice, “socially and intellectually inferior.” I once asked Raje how he is able to sustain such relationships when I told him I would be wanting of good conversation on topics that interest me. Raje’s reply: “Kapatid, you have to go down to their level”. He said this with no trace of sarcasm, disdain or snobbishness. For Raje, it was the only way to go.
Indeed, one of Raje’s most endearing qualities is his capacity to listen, to connect with virtually anyone. I have much to learn from Raje. Once, Raje and I set out to meet for dinner in Malate, he told me he was bringing his date along. I said that was fine. While dining al fresco, his former boyfriend spotted us and came to our table. Shortly thereafter, Raje’s present boyfriend happened to pass by as well. So there we were, Raje, his new trick, his former, his present and me drinking in a sidewalk café in Nakpil Street. Talk about spontaneity. All three men knew who they were in relation to Raje. All three understood. And all three behaved. Kudos to Raje for handling the situation with perfect ease. Madame de Mertuil (Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons) would be proud.
Raje’s loyalty to his present boyfriend goes beyond traditional bonds. While he has professed undying love for his boyfriend he has asked that he also be allowed to meet and be with other men, telling his boyfriend that he doesn’t love the “Others” as much as he does him. The “Others” is their code for the other men Raje dates. Raje sometimes mistakenly sends text messages meant for the “Others” to his boyfriend (“Nakasanayan na kasi,” out of habit) and that is how they both came up with that code. Raje sees nothing wrong with the set-up. He says that it is good they are honest with each other. Methinks it is good his boyfriend is understanding.
(To be continued on 23 December, Monday)