"Are you talkin' to me? Are Talking to ME?? Well, I'm the only one here! "
PICTURES
Junk I'll never throw away
Subway credit card. This one was good for one trip only.
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Me and Rafael Kayanan in New York's Times Square
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Me and Richard Ashford, Times Square.
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The hotel that I stayed in, the Riverside Tower Hotel    #80 Riverside Drive
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The Gothic Chapel in  the Cloisters Museum
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Dinosaurs!
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NEW YORK WALKING!
 Journal of a Filipino Comic Book Artist's 4 days  in the Big Apple.
by Gerry Alanguilan

"Do 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.

This 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.

I was 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 "Taxi Driver".

I was peering outside the window of the plane when I first saw it. Manhattan Island. 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. 

THE TAXI DRIVER

Immediately 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!

I 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.)

THE SUBWAY

After 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.

I 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. 

We 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.

JESSICA AND THE DINOSAUR

I 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.

Jessica 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 them.

At 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.

THE CHINESE SIOPAO MAN

That 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. 

On 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.

LOST IN THE MIDDLE AGES

Earlier 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. 

So 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.

Jessica 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. 

The 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 left.

After 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.

The 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.

GOODBYE

I 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 fear of.


END
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