you believe in Jesus?" The gravelly voiced man calmly asked. The
long blond haired and bearded young man clutched the crucifix that hung
around his neck and fell over on his tattered denim jacket and jeans. He
replied tentatively and afraid, "Yes." The gravelly voiced man answered
"Then go meet him." A thunderclap shatters the quiet of the dark
and garbage strewn alleyway as the young man is thrown forcefully back
into a wall by a bullet that hits him square on the chest. Gun still smoking,
Charles Bronson calmly and slowly turns around and walks away, looking
for more scum to kill.
is a scene from Charles Bronson's Deathwish movie series, a story of an
ordinary citizen driven right to the edge of sanity and goes on killing
criminals as a vigilante. The first movie was set in New York City. This
movie is only one in a long line of films and TV series, including Hill
Street Blues and NYPD Blue, that have all put the fear of New York in me.
I have had many vivid dreams of walking the streets of the city where I
find myself in dark shadowy streets where I am mugged and killed.
It is true that Sesame Street is also set in New York but I'm convinced
that Big Bird himself must have been mugged at one time or another and
they just aren't telling us.
in this state of mind weeks before I left the Philippines for a visit to
what many have gotten used to call "The Big Apple". And I was in
an even worse state of mind a few hours before my plane landed in JFK airport.
I have only been to America once before, but I have visited places like
San Diego and San Francisco, where everything is nice, pleasant and beautiful.
A lot of my friends who live in New York have all considered my concerns
as ridiculous and that I should come on over and visit. Since I was
in the US anyway for a Comics Convention in San
Diego, I might as well swing on over to the East Coast and face my
fear head on, as it were. Inspite of my friends' assurances though,
I was still concvinced that while walking the street, I'd be run down by
a maniac taxi driver who has delusions of being Robert De Niro in the film
peering outside the window of the plane when I first saw it. Manhattan
Placing my hand on the window, the entire island fit my entire
outstretched hand. New York in the palm of my hand. It began to sink
in. I was here. In this place. This place that used to exist only in my
imagination, a world that flickered bright and colorful only on my TV screen.
I became mesmerized as I watched Manhattan slowly crawl by miles beneath
me. This was the land of many stories, many legends, many images and many
myths. This was where the Equalizer ran through the streets helping people
in despair. This was where John Lennon was shot and where millions of people
gathered together to bid him farewell. This was where Spiderman and
Daredevil swung over rooftops to save some damsel in distress. Thinking
and feeling it over, I was suddenly overwhelmed. New York is truly a mythical
place. But it was real. It was true. And I was about to enter it.
upon disembarking the airplane, I decided to take a taxi to my hotel in
Manhattan. Since JFK airport is far from the island, it would
take around an hour to get there. My taxi driver was Indian (Asian) and
I realized later that a lot of them were. As I settled in my back
seat, I thought, hey, I'm in an actual New York taxi! Cool! Things were
about to get cooler. The taxi blasted out of the parking lot like
a bat out of hell. I came to my senses long enough to strap myself securely
with the seat belt. The driver was really letting it go as we sped
through the highway swerving left to right. My hair stood on end
as I feared desperately for my life. And the driver was cool as ice.
He sat there with one hand on the wheel and one hand holding a small hair
pulling device as he trimmed his stubbled beard. It was crazy, it was insane,
but I had a huge smile on my face as the wind flew through the window and
blasted me back against my seat. We reached my hotel on the Upper
West Side, west of Central Park in only 30 minutes. I was staggered and
dazed as I stepped out of the taxi but man, that ride alone was an experience!
checked into my hotel and I was truly amused at how tiny my hotel room
was. It was small but it was sufficient. It did not have cable but
it did have it's own bathroom so that was perfect enough for me.
Not wanting to waste any time by lingering too long in my room, I freshened
up and I immediately hit the streets. I took a couple of maps from
the lobby which were free for anyone who needs it. For some strange
reason, whatever fear I have of walking the streets of New York evaporated
when I first saw Manhattan Island for the first time from miles up in the
sky. I looked up at that same sky now and it looks exactly like it
would at home. Why shouldn't it, I guess? What I noticed right away
was that it wasn't cold as I had expected it to be. It was cool and nippy
but it wasn't enough for me to wear my jacket. Times like this that
I think back at all those morons at home who insist on wearing leather
jackets and trenchcoats on the streets of Manila even when it's so beastly
hot. Mga engot! Gusto ninyo lang pumorma. Mukha naman kayong
tanga. (Idiots! All you want to do is pose and look good, but you
all end up looking like morons.)
walking several blocks, I went back to my hotel room to call Richard Ashford
and Rafael Kayanan, both of Cross Plains Comics, the company that I did
some work for and that helped me find accomodations in New York.
Richard is British who has lived in New York for 10 years and who is a
writer as well as an editor. Rafael Kayanan is a Filipino who is also a
talented artist whose work graced the pages of comics like Conan The Adventurer
and Spiderman. They both picked me up from my hotel an hour or so
later for some sightseeing several blocks down to 42nd Street (I was in
80th Street) to Times Square. Before we get there though, we had to take
the subway. New York wasn't meant for driving, I discovered. It was meant
for walking and taking the subway. For a moment, I was struck
with fear at the thought of getting on that thing. I remembered Equalizer
episodes where the subway was populated with hoodlums and the walls sprayed
wall to wall with gang graffitti. Needless to say, I dreaded
the prospect of getting in there. But Richard and Rafael seemed unperturbed
and I carefully went along, my guard all the way up all the time.
felt an intense blast of heat upon descending down the subway terminal.
I suppose it would be hot, what with all those trains shuttling back and
forth inside this confined space. You insert tokens like one would
when riding the LRT in Manila and then wait for the trains to arrive. It
was so hot that I started to sweat. The trains arrived and at once
I was inside. And because the trains were airconditioned, inside it was
cold. The train was not crowded, it was not dirty or graffitti ridden,
and it did not have any seedy, shadowy characters hanging around, except
for some bums who were alseep and were not bothering anybody. I just
had to breathe a sigh of relief. We remained standing as I would
normally do when I ride the LRT. After a few minutes, I suddenly heard
singing. Someone was singing "Amazing Grace". A bum was walking
through the train asking for coins so he could buy something to eat. The
man was hunchbacked, dirty and he smelled bad. Then again it might
have been a woman. This person was in such a disarray that I could not
tell which was which. But that voice that came out of that
throat was so beautiful that I was moved. I could not understand how someone
so talented could fall on such hard times. I was moved to give this
person something. He sauntered on past me, singing all the way.
got off at the 50th Street Station and walked all the way down to Times
Square. Not too long ago, this place was populated end to end by
porn shops and theaters. But now everything is beautiful and bright
and the sights snaked way up right into the sky disappearing into the dark
skycraper tops. There were lots of people here and upon closer inspection,
I realized that most of them were tourists as well, with maps and cameras
clutched tightly in their hands, just like me. Right in the middle of
Times Square we had our pictures taken like proper tourists. The lights
were so bright that at the spot were were in, it looked as if were were
standing in the street in the middle of the day. We had some drinks
at the revolving bar on top of the Marriott Marquis Hotel and for an hour
we watched as the entire Manhattan skyline crawled lazily in front of us.
We had dinner at an Afghan restaurant and I tasted things that my tounge
has never tasted before. By then it was getting close to midnight and
as we came back to Times Square, it was still so alive with people that
it seemed like this place would never sleep. And I guess it doesn't. I
took the subway back to my hotel and on this second time I rode it, I attacked
it almost like a native, swaggering like someone who has lived here for
years and yet I was only there for no more than 6 hours. Looking back,
I could not believe how easily I had fallen into place, feeling so at home
in just a few hours.
AND THE DINOSAUR
had been in correspondence with Filipino columnist and radio/TV talk show
host Jessica Zafra long before I went to New York. It turns out that
we would be in the city at exactly the same time and we arranged to meet.
On my second day in New York, she came by my hotel from which we walked
straight east until we hit the American Museum of Natural History.
When we went to this museum, there was only one thing on our minds:
DINOSAURS!! After eating foot long hotdogs beneath a gigantic
life size model of a blue whale, we proceeded to go systematically through
the exhibits starting with the fish displays. After a couple of minutes
Jessica mentioned something like, "Fish Boring Dinosaurs Now!", which was
exactly what I was thinking! We rushed up to the 4th floor where the dinosaur
bones were. Immediately upon entering the room, I saw the bones of a huge
Apatosaurus (formerly Brontosaurus) and I was struck instantly with awe.
I just stood there and looked for a long time. My brain was on the
verge of short-circuiting. This was something that was alive millions
of years ago on the same ground I was walking. It was so huge and
so alien to me that I could not believe that this thing actually existed.
And yet it was there. The bones were proof of it. And in some areas I can
actually come up close to touch it. I would feel awestruck for the
next couple of hours as I looked at each set of dinosaur bones closely.
Jessica and I imagined archeologists of the future looking at bones of
present day humans and they, in their pretentions of intelligence, would
put together our bones in anatomically impossible poses with double heads
and hideously twisted torsos. Are dinosaurs as they are presented
now close to what they actually were? Nobody really knows. These bones
are all that remain and the mere fact that they are here and have not disintegrated
after millions and millions of years is a wonder in itself.
and I then went out walking to the nearby Central Park. I love to
walk and it turns out, so does she. We both bought sidewalk ice cream and
went walking through the park. Central Park was an amazing place
as well. Deep in it you could actually convince yourself that you
are in a middle of a forest. Shrubs rustling turn out to
be squirrels. I've never seen animals like that up close yet and it's a
fascinating animal to see. Part rat, part cat, and as rapidly manic as
a chicken. They have birds there that look quite close to our own
Maya which they call Robins. They have lots of pigeons that aren't afraid
of people so much so that you can actually come up close to almost touch
the end of the day I was so tired from walking that my feet were sore.
But I didn't mind. It had been a great day and a day spent with a bonafide
celebrity on the streets of New York was altogether a mind blowing experience.
CHINESE SIOPAO MAN
night I got in touch with and met Carlo Montesa, my best friend for 17
years. We lived next door to each other when I was younger and
when he left to live in the United States in the early 90's we sort of
drifted apart. I haven't met anyone else, except for my girlfriend,
whom I've gotten that close to. He came to my hotel at
around 8 and he brought along his girlfriend Peach and sister Heidi.
We all immediately tried to catch up on old times as we drove around the
streets of New York for a place to eat. We ended up on a nice Italian
restaurant, and later on, had desert in a cafe where the movie "You've
Got Mail" was shot. We had such a great time that we chose to meet
again the following night.
the third night it was raining. It had gotten cold, but not colder than
it usually gets here in the Philippines on Christmas. Still, it was
rain in New York! Another new experience! We had dinner in a Chinatown
restaurant that had Filipino waiters. Later on we bought siopao at another
nearby restaurant. "Siopao"? You may ask. Yes indeed! I forget the
name of the restaurant now but there is a particular one where siopao is
indeed prepared in the way we Filipinos have gotten used to it. The
place is owned by a remarkable Chinese gentleman who has learned conversational
tagalog from the many Filipinos who flock to his restaurant to buy his
special dish. We asked him as we entered, "Do you have siopao?" Recognizing
that were were Filipinos, he smiled and said, "A siopao! Asadobaboyhalohalo?"
Heidi, Peach and I almost said at the same time, "HUH?" The siopao
man nodded, smiled and said, "A siopao! Asado, Baboy, Halo-halo?".
We said all at once, "Aaaaahhh....! Halo-Halo!" And we laughed all
at the same time.
IN THE MIDDLE AGES
on my third day, Jessica and I were supposed to meet once again. She wanted
to check out the Cloisters Museum way up on the northern tip of Manhattan.
All I knew was that it was a medieval museum. I wasn't really excited
about going, but I thought that it might be interesting. She said
that we just ought to meet there and she gave me directions. I would
be taking a bus marked "M4" that passes by on a street that's 30 or so
minutes away on foot. The bus ride itself would be long, around an hour
or so, until it reaches the museum. I said OK, but if she doesn't see me
there, I won't be there. It was very far, as far as the map I was
looking at was concerned, and I would be passing parts of Harlem and I
would stop just short of the Bronx. Apparently, some of that fear
in me still remained. The Bronx really didn't have a reputation for
being a safe neighborhood, but then again, that just might be the TV and
movie brainswashing that was talking.
I got up and caught the M4 bus. It was my first time riding a New York
bus and once again it was something new. I was excited and yet at the
same time a bit apprehensive because I might make a mistake and I'd be
caught in an embarrassing situation. And an embarrassing situation
did happen. As I got on the bus, I knew I had to prepare $1.50 fare
so I took out a dollar bill and two quarters. As I was about to drop in
my fare, I realized that the machine doesn't take bills, only coins. So
I searched my pockets desperately, hoping that I had enough coins for it.
I definitely had enough pennies and as I brought up a handful from my pocket,
a sign on the machine screamed back at me almost deafeningly: NO PENNIES.
Aighh!! By this time I was fumbling through my bag and pockets and everyone
was already looking at me shaking their heads. I can almost hear them say,
"Fucking Tourists!!". I eventually found the right change and dropped
it off and sat down on a seat at the furthest end of the bus. If anyone
wanted to stare at me, they'd have to crane their necks.
was right. It was a long bus ride. Rafael had told me before that
I could just take a subway marked "A" and I would be there in no time at
all. I could, but I thought I'd rather take the bus so I can see the city
a bit more. In a subway, you get to see nothing but dark tunnels. I
got to see the more seedier side of Manhattan where the streets are sort
of dirty and desolate but I also got to see streets that were alive with
people and happenings. We passed by an area where all I could see were
spanish writings and everyone who got on the bus spoke nothing but spanish.
After travelling for a while, we eventually reached the end of the
bus route and I got off just outside the museum.
Cloisters Museum is separated from the community by a rather large park.
It's isolation suits it because of it's very nature. I realized that
this museum is an actual recreation of a medieval structure. Yes, the structure
itself was built in modern times but considerable parts of it were authentic
columns, floorings, ceilings, and windows from actual medieval buildings
from Europe, some dating as far back as the 1200s. When I realized
what this place was, I let out a breath and the only thing I could think
of to say was "cool!!". It always amazes me when I look at unbelievably
old stuff. And everything on this museum was amazingly ancient, averaging
some 600 years old. I saw hand painted stained glass windows, golden
chalices, sculptures of religious images and scenes that were so tiny that
it's almost impossible to imagine how anyone could have done it. Imagine
a group of 20 or so images in varying poses and clothing, carved from a
piece of wood half the size of a tennis ball. This place almost made
me forget how awed I was about the dinosaurs. While walking the rooms
I always kept an eye out for Jessica and her sister Cookie. I didn't see
them and I just assumed that they had gotten here earlier and had already
a couple of hours of being blown away by each exhibit, I was dead tired
and I just wanted to rest back in my hotel room. I decided to take
the "A" Train back instead of the bus. I had already seen the route anyway
so it would be better to take the subway. Faster that way. Famous last
words! I saw the subway terminal before we entered the park that
housed the Cloisters. I was fairly confident that I would be able
to find my way back to the terminal on foot. I spent the next hour or
so searching for it, lost in the Cloisters park. Squirrels amused me
while I was lost so I didn't feel totally desperate, but I was getting
there real fast. It was a total relief when I found the terminal
at last. I got in the train and just settled in my seat and waited for
the train to stop on 72nd Street from which I can just walk back a bit
to 80th where my hotel was at. The train reached 72nd and it hurtled
on like a runaway train. My head screamed, "Oh shit! It's not stopping!
I'm screwed!!" There I was staring outside the train window like
a hapless prisoner on a train going straight for hell.
train eventually stopped and I found myself back on 42nd, right beside
the famous Port Authority Bus Terminal. I walked around dazed
and tired until I found myself back on Times Square where I found a comic
book store on the 2nd floor of a building. Excited, I quickly went up
and right there in the middle of shelves of comic books, was Stone #1,
a comic book I had worked on that had MY name on it! In New York City!!!!
It was probably one of the best things to happen to me there. Only
few years ago, I never thought that this could happen. And yet it did and
I felt myself taking off to a total emotional high.
had to leave very early on my fourth day as my flight back to the Philippines
leaves at around noon. And you know what? 14 dollars was
the only money I had left in my pocket. It was a good thing that
Carlo would be coming over to bring me to the airport. If he wasn't
around, I knew I was screwed! I could not believe my stay was
over so fast. It seemed like only a short while ago when a taxi driver
almost murdered me and like lightning it's already 4 days later and I'm
on my way back home. Like the tired old saying says, time really
flies. In the short time that we were together, Carlo and I were
like best friends again. He has asked me to come back to New York next
year so that I could be the best man at his wedding. I felt like crying
when it came time to say goodbye. I could not wait to once again
come back to this city which only a few days ago I was in deathly