“Coming Home”: In Love and War

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We’re quick to condemn people’s actions in a time of war when we are mere bystanders to the event. In 1999, director Elia Kazan was awarded an honorary Oscar, which sparked dissidence in Hollywood. Industry big wigs refused him a standing ovation due to his cooperation with the House on Un-American Activities 47 years earlier, wherein he had named colleagues suspected of communist leanings; hence, terminating the careers of actors Art Smith and Morris Carnovsky and playwright Clifford Odets. In a press conference, Kazan defended himself by explaining he had opted for the less opprobrious of two options presented to him. What those options were is pointless. The point is that the Cold War perpetrated rancor and suspicion among Americans, largely bolstered by anti-red propaganda. (An ad for Scott paper towels warned that rough wipes in a company restroom were indicative of capitalist abuse culpable of turning employees into Bolsheviks.) We can therefore presume that the taut times led to drastic measures; those subpoenaed to take the testimonial stand must have done so under the pressure of a threat.

The French movie “Diplomacy” (2014) depicts an analogous instance. Based on true events of World War II, it pits German general, Dietrich von Choltitz (Niels Arestrup), against Swedish diplomat, Raoul Nordling (André Dussolier). Paris is at stake. The Nazis are retreating, and as a middle finger to the Allied Forces, Hitler has commanded von Choltitz to push buttons that would blow up the city. Nordling implores the general to reconsider, utilizing psychological strategies to appeal to his compassion for life and history. Families murdered, monuments crumbled, a civilization annihilated… von Choltitz assures Nordling that all this burdens his conscience. Why then obey the Führer? The dictator has got the general’s family hostage.

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Although both of the above pertain to historical occurrences, they are our stories, as well. War need not be exclusive to either politicians and soldiers or courtrooms and battlefields. Just as with feuding nations, we can’t be too sure of what we are capable in a circumstance that involves the beloved. My cousin, Liza, died of cancer well tended to; her husband, John, comforted her through chemotherapy and promised to fulfill her last wishes. (http://www.rafsy.com/films-2000s-present/me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl-everyones-loss/) Such faithfulness is the prescription for a big screen romance, and two films of the same title, “Coming Home,” screened 38 years apart (1978 and 2015) and from two different countries (The United States and China), pay obeisance to this, each with a plot distinctly its own; the Vietnam War is the backdrop to the early film and the Cultural Revolution to the later.

In the 1978 feature, Sally Hyde (Jane Fonda) is a military wife whose husband, Bob (Bruce Dern), has been called to action in the Far East hotbed of napalm and stifling swamps. Alone in California, Sally volunteers at a veteran hospital, where she meets Luke Martin (Jon Voight), a soldier recuperating from wounds that have made him a paraplegic. As their friendship develops into something more, Bob returns. He suffers from post-traumatic stress. Sally and Luke decide that she must remain with her husband, for a wife’s dedication would be the most efficacious remedy to Bob’s condition. Lu Yanshi (Chen Daoming) in the 2015 story is a dissentient to Chairman Mao. He comes home to wife, Feng Wanyu (Gong Li), after ten years in a labor camp, where he had been detained for political rehabilitation. Both await the reconciliation, only an accident during Lu’s imprisonment has damaged Feng’s memory. She doesn’t recognize her husband. To revert her amnesia, Lu reads letters he had written to her from his cell, all of which she has stored in a chest, plays on a piano songs that bear special meaning to them both, and on a particular day of the month, Lu stands with Feng at a train station as she awaits the husband whom she is unable to realize is already by her side. This Lu does ceaselessly through rain and snow, for time indefinite.

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My cousin’s husband has since remarried. The journey back to a serene existence hasn’t been smooth. John’s second wife, Wendy, is ill. “It’s like reliving a nightmare,” John said this past weekend during a visit to San Francisco. Within six months of their marriage two years ago, the condo they moved into poisoned Wendy with mold infection. While the sickness is curable in 95% of its victims, she belongs to the 5% that don’t respond to treatment. As a result, her senses are heightened, causing bright light and noise to burden her eyes and ears; high altitude constricts her breathing; and food spices induce vomiting. On some days, she is so enfeebled that she’s bedridden. So that he can watch over his wife during the day, John works on his entrepreneurial projects in the evenings. Regardless, he maintains an upbeat attitude (“What can you do? That’s how it is.”), hopeful that the next doctor will provide the breakthrough.

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“That’s love,” I told my nephew, Rafael. All those present in the living room consented. Love stories surround us. A friend, Rafael P, is caregiver to an ex-boyfriend who is in stage four of cancer, feeding Jeff meals and changing Jeff ‘s sheets on occasions that he messes his bed, while another friend, Joe, has tightened bonds with his partner, who is nursing him through short-term memory loss and limited mobility, the aftereffects of a brain tumor operation performed a year and a half ago. My own mother is now wary about solo trips to San Francisco because of my father’s crippling knee problems and arthritis. To walk, he needs a cane in one hand and the support of an arm in the other, and he has difficulty putting on his socks and shoes. I told my mother that he wouldn’t like it if we were to make him feel as an invalid through constant vigilance. “Of course, he wouldn’t,” she said, yet a fact is a fact. “Still, he can’t be left alone.”

Later, my nephew, Rafael, said about his girlfriend, “I don’t know if I’d be able to do the same for Kelly.” I responded that he could never know. None of us could, for a flip side exists to every position as it does in a war. My sister knew two guys in college, Paul and Jim, who were a couple and continued on as such after graduation, until Paul’s health deteriorated from a brain tumor. As it did for Joe, a surgery impaired his movement, causing Jim to break off their relationship. I read that a similar scenario happened between two men who, in the 1990s, were big names in the gay media on account of their physiognomy and sexual prowess, assets that Colt Studios, a company dedicated to the promotion of superior-caliber physiques, recorded on film. True to the title of their video, “Muscle Ranch,” Jake Tanner and Ed Dinakos were thoroughbreds that boasted ripped abs and Hercules thighs. Then AIDS took its toll on Ed, and Jake left.

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I am not here to make assumptions on Jim and Jake. I am not an insider to their decisions, and what I relate of them are secondhand accounts. I cite the two to underline that we can never accurately foresee how rough a going can get. Only when we are experiencing it can we fathom the full oppressiveness of the situation. Should we quit, would we be committing an egregious act? Nobody chooses to be ill as much as nobody chooses to be a victim of a war. Nevertheless, things happen. When they do, heroes are born. We extol them. We convince ourselves in our moments of peace and health that, in hardship with a loved one, we will hold the likes of John and our devoted spouses in “Coming Home,” Sally Hyde and Lu Yanshi, as examples to follow. But the truth is in my nephew’s statement: “ I don’t know…”

 

 

Tom Cruise: The Art of Survival

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Here’s the thing about Tom Cruise – I was never a fan. Too much of anything can be counterproductive, and Cruise is one dude who has had too much of everything. Too much typecasting. Too much big budget Hollywood flicks. Too much Scientology. He’s handsome and wholesome, which has garnered him roles as the boy next door (“All the Right Moves” (1983)); the idealist, short of a red cape, who throws punches in defense of the democratic principle of truth and justice, the American way (“A Few Good Men” (1992)); and every male archetype from a pool hustler (“The Color of Money” (1986)) to a race car driver (“Days of Thunder” (1990)). When he plays angry, he yells. When he plays happy, he smiles. He’s got to. That smile is his calling card, teeth the white and evenness of piano keys and dimples as arresting as a pebble drop in still waters.

Tom Cruise was made for the camera. We know what to expect of him. His very predictability rakes in the dough, no matter the scandals. His attack of Brooke Shields for her use of drugs to treat postpartum depression (http://www.rafsy.com/actors-models-directors/brooke-shields-the-prettiest-baby-of-all/) and estrangement from daughter, Suri, and ex-wife, Katie Holmes, both instances of which his association with Scientology have functioned as a factor, have led us to wonder if the guy is all together up there. Nonetheless, we can’t stop looking at him. “Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation” (2015) would never have been my choice for a Sunday matinee, but when a friend mentioned it, I couldn’t say no.

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I was impressed. I have to applaud Tom Cruise his staying power. The “Mission Impossible” franchise is action-packed entertainment, and it is reported that Cruise performs his own stunts. In the latest installment, he clings to the side of a plane as it takes off, duels with a sniper on rafters high above the stage of the Vienna State Opera, and holds his breath for six minutes in a metal vortex filled with water. To remain top billing, an actor needs to reinvent oneself. Cruise seems to have found his opportunity to do so by impressing us with his derring-do in one breakneck scene after another. No mere excuse to show off, the stunts are in keeping with the character of espionage agent, Ethan Hunt. They have also become characteristic of the actor himself. Cruise didn’t start out as an action star. Somewhere along the path of his career, he became one. That this should happen to him at the stage in life when theater marquees give way to younger names provides those of us who came of age in the 1980s someone to emulate. Tom Cruise as a role model… this is one impossible mission accomplished for which he deserves an award.

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“When did Tom Cruise turn 40?” a co-worker once asked in disbelief. “How did that even happen?” When did any of us ever turn 40? In 1985, I was a senior in high school. Tom Cruise had just crossed the threshold of fame with “Risky Business” (1983). He was a kid and looked it, too, with cheeks pudgy and body half-man, half-boy. A classmate one day during recess said, “I like being young in the ‘80s. This is the best era.” I agreed because it was indeed mind-blowing to be in the frontier of technological developments and pop culture breakthroughs. The Walkman deafened us to the yakking of our parents, and computers were introducing new words to our daily lexicography. The Virgin Mary was no longer the only Madonna revered, and Tom Cruise would strike the moon right in the eye a year later with “Top Gun” (1986). We stood at the forefront of the second millennium, googly eyed in our youth and optimism.

The ‘80s hasn’t quite ended. Nowadays we are googly eyed with nostalgia for the decade. Its optimism lacks in the 2010s, this era of drones and suicide bombers who detonate in concert stadiums. We had Glasnost, the system of civil communication between the Soviet Union and the United States, two world powers until then rivals, which thawed the three-decade Cold War, and AIDS victims had a chance at survival upon the introduction of the first HIV antiretroviral medication. Prosperity was in the horizon. Cinema today bows to the ‘80s. “Hot Tub Time Machine” (2010) is one such film. Silly as it is in its plot of middle-aged sybarites in a jacuzzi that transports them 30 years back so that they could relive their youth, it captures the party spirit tangential to big hair, cell phones the size of a blackboard eraser, and fluorescent everything – from sneakers to magazine fonts, from lipstick to key chains. The 1980s was, without match, a decade that dazzled with the colors of a Rubik’s Cube. (http://www.rafsy.com/art-of-storytelling/eighties-eruption-reflections-on-a-dazzling-decade/)

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Today we’ve got a terrorist color chart. Among the shades are toothpaste blue for guarded alert, mango yellow for high, and jelly bean red for severe. Never did we imagine that the tinctures of the most ubiquitous objects would someday breed fear. To parlay mass tension into entertainment, Hollywood has given us 3D viewing. This is what it is to be in the midst of mayhem. Fires ingurgitate buildings with the force of a tornado. Guns blast brains to smithereens. Rubble and guts come hurling at us. However, we need not dread for long. Look at who’s fighting on our side – Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis… and our indispensable Maverick. Though advanced in age, they’re still going strong, and with Cruise at 53 the most junior of the lot and the one who commands the most headlines, he’s the leader of the pack. For the duration that he jumps at us from the big screen, we can pretend that the world has a chance at once more being a better place. We are young again.

No small feat, this celluloid heroism. It vindicates the man. That Cruise continues to rule the box office italicizes one important fact, that whatever bad press he has been getting is for the moment. The gossip mill will stop to churn as it did for Charlie Chaplin, Ingrid Bergman, and Lana Turner (statutory rape, adultery, and murder with regards to each respectively), and Tom Cruise will be remembered for what he does best – the art or survival through the making of motion pictures.

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“Blue Is the Warmest Color”: A Dynamite of Emotions

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My e-mail to friends and family of “Blue Is the Warmest Color” (2013) upon its theatrical release in the U.S.:

Outstanding movie. Personally, I think it could have been edited because some scenes are prolonged. One lengthy sex scene comes to mind. At the same time, though, I was fascinated by both the directorial and acting processes behind the simulated love making… behind every frame, for that matter. The passion, emotions, and intensity are so palpable that I was lamenting what was lacking in my own life. I mean, I get sex all right, but not like that. What transpires on screen is more than just a love affair. It is a collision. I could see the wreckage and the flames and the debris exploding from the eyes and pores of both actresses. Every touch, every kiss, every embrace are a matter of life and death. And French teenagers are soooo intelligent. Jean Paul Sartre, “Dangerous Liaisons,” Picasso – the characters talk about these subjects with the fervor that we gay men talk about fuck parties on Folsom Fair weekend.

A collision. This is exactly what I felt with the film adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet (1968). (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1960s-1990s/romeo-and-juliet-till-death-and-beyond/) Like Shakespeare’s most celebrated couple, Emma (Léa Seydoux) and Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) in “Blue Is the Warmest Color” are young, so young that they nose-dive into an eddy of hungry glances and devouring kisses, uncaring of what might be because the only thing that matters is now. “Seize the day” is the creed of the young, and this they do. Each one is to the other an apple as robust and sanguine as a heart, coated in lacquer the shine of tears and sweat. With such enticement, a romance is inevitable, and with many tender age romances, it doesn’t bode well. Although nobody dies, death occurs.

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“Do you still love me?” Adèle asks towards the end of a three-hour run. It’s a common question, and it’s a hard one. A future depends on the answer. The bluntness with which we can reply in the negative staggers me. Whatever the shortcomings of our partners, we are just as marred by our own failures. Even though an affair may end, is it possible for love to die? Memories must keep a flicker of love burning, an eternal flame. Emma shakes her head. We wonder about her truthfulness when she is as distraught as a wounded cat, face down and eyes tinged with regret. Adèle certainly doesn’t believe her. They’ve met up at a restaurant, a typical venue for love’s rituals from a break-up to a reconciliation. Amid snot, muffled crying, and kisses, Adèle tries to prove Emma wrong in an instant that involves one girl’s hand under the table as the other parts her legs. The flesh is a potent elixir, indeed.

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Emma and Adèle have their youth ahead of them. Regardless of what may become of the two, what they possessed while it was in their grasp is enviable. “Just say stay,” a colleague at the writing program once told me about the separation that happens the morning after. I was at Cornell, and I had met someone during a weekend in Manhattan, which is a five-hour bus ride away from Ithaca, the town where the university serves as its backbone. Peter was visiting from Minneapolis. After introducing ourselves at a club, we took a cab to his hotel. I lay on his lap during the ride as he stroked my hair. It’s bewildering, the affection born from a handshake and ten minutes of basic conversation. “You have a ‘50s look to you,” I said. He was clean cut with long sideburns and blond waves, a look reared on tuna casserole and apple pie, on Photoplay cover shots of Tony Curtis and Tab Hunter. His room was tidy. Shirts were folded into squares in an open suitcase; fresh sheets covered a queen bed; and a Kenneth Cole shopping bag suggested about him a bit of the preppy and a bit of the yuppy.

The night air was nippy. Moonlight permeated the blue of the sky with a frosted tint. Indoors, we were hot and sweaty. The next morning, as the sun shone through the curtains, I asked, “ Should we exchange numbers?” Peter said, “I thought about that, but considering the kind of sex we had, maybe we shouldn’t.” We had been animals for the hours before daybreak, far from dating material. I consented. As we parted at a coffee shop some blocks away, we stood facing each other. He was a little taller than I, and the dazzle of a new day glazed his eyes. We motioned to kiss, but then I stalled. “I know,” Peter said. And I never saw him again.

Animalism is precisely the chemistry between Emma and Adèle, a mating between two lionesses, both unrestrained and ravenous. This is sex. This is love. No, Peter didn’t know what I was thinking. It was because we had devolved for our moment together into thrashing body parts – grunts and spit, muscles and meat – that we should have kept in touch. Defeat prevented me from kissing him. “Stay,” I wanted to say. But we had been in his hotel room, and young and complacent as I was, the submissive between the two, I allowed him the final word, a decision I so regretted that I later requested a friend who was then living in the city to print me a web listing of all Peter Wagners in Minneapolis. “You’re obsessing over him, Raf,” my friend said.

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Probably so. A missed opportunity had happened a few months before with a guy named Mike. To my inquiry about a future connection, Mike said, “It usually doesn’t work the second time around.” He went on to recount an experience to defend his opinion. We were in bed. Steam clouded our reflection on a wall mirror. Mike was tan and sinewy with hair the shade of corn and James Caan curly. His last name was Harney. “Sounds like horny,” I had said a moment earlier. “Don’t even start,” he had responded. “I’ve had that all through school.” I thought this cute of him, that he would share with me something he had been sensitive about as a kid. A personal tidbit as minor as that had made the sex between us more than skin deep. Since we were in a bathhouse, we were on neutral ground. Still, I gave in to saying goodbye and leaving it at that. How difficult would it have been to say instead, “I’m different. I believe the second time can be even better. Here’s my number”?

Now here I am, nearly 20 years later, my memory of Peter and Mike stained by the dreadful incantation of remorse: what if… what if… what if… E-mails and phone calls might have amounted to nothing. Or they could have sparked gunpowder. The beauty of “Blue Is the Warmest Color” is that our nubile femme fatales take a risk with gunpowder. They don’t think about their actions. They’re as spontaneous as children with a lollipop. When the debris settles, Emma may claim that her devotion to Adèle no longer is, but she does assure Adèle that she will always think tenderly of her, that time will never lessen her relevance. Neither one loses anything in the long haul. That both will live forever in one another’s hearts is a gain for each.

The only love in which we lose is the love that could have been.

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“Jaws”: The Force of Family

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I learned to read time when I was eight. My family had gone to the beach one Saturday, and I had elected to stay home. We had just seen “Jaws” (1975) a few weeks earlier. A leg underwater without a body, guts in the dismembered section as gnashed up as raw steak in a grinder, quelched my appetite for surf and sand. I was excited to be left alone. The housekeepers were at my beck and call, and all I called for from morning to dusk was munchies. The TV provided me adequate company: “Sesame Street,” Hanna-Barbera cartoons, and Filipino variety shows where the hosts would summon audience members to the stage to chaff.

Home was a mixture of design elements from a hacienda and a Disney mansion. A circular threshold in the veranda led to the garden, across of which stood a bamboo hut. A balustrade with Doric columns bordered the front porch. Cement walls were white, and the upstairs floor was wood. I spent the day in my parents’ room with a view of the driveway. Shingled roofs and windows to neighboring houses peaked out from high gates, and leaves on trees that lined the street were a collage of varying green hues against blue skies. Oscar the Grouch was never that grouchy, his garbage can of a lodging no more than a tin shield to an amiable heart. Scooby and his gang of teen sleuths proved that we kids could outwit any miscreant, any day. As crude as the jokes were on daytime TV about a game contestant’s age, weight, or height, no offense was taken. (Happiness, to the Filipino, is the modesty to laugh at oneself.) This was my childhood, life in a dollhouse.

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Then came “Jaws.” The theater was packed. Viewers sat on the stairs, stood in the aisles and against the walls. I shared a chair with my father. Forget fire hazard regulations. A film that would define the word “blockbuster” was on screen. We were in the midst of history in the making. “Jaws” is scary and it is sexy. A man and a woman strip on the beach. The moon silhouettes their naked bodies. He falls on the dunes, into an intoxicated sleep, as she dashes into the ocean. Our shark lets its victim in on her fate by dragging her around in a carousel of intimidation, with occasional dips underwater. She screams. She cries. She’s a hot chick in deep shit. We all know a shark doesn’t treat a meal in this manner. It torpedoes towards its target and gobbles it up in one go. Then again, most sharks are not subject to the directorship of Steven Spielberg. The showman knows that to unleash an adrenaline rush he must tease the audience.

The opening scene to “Jaws” is box office foreplay.

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“What time is it?” I would continuously ask the maids when half the day passed on the Saturday my family went beach rollicking. With every answer, I’d look at the clock on the night table, calculate the amount of rounds the short arm made and where the long arm was positioned in relation. The thrill of having to myself every room and a back yard pool diminished with every quarter minutes that elapsed. Made-up beds, empty chairs, and the air silent of the splashes and playful screams of a weekend swim instilled in me one thought: a shark. I couldn’t rid myself of the vision from “Jaws” of a leg sinking to sea bottom. It belongs to a boy close to my brother’s age back then, 14, and with the boy as minced meat in a shark’s belly, his mother is left alone in a summer paradise turned hell, staring into the azure horizon as if, by a miracle, her only child would rise from its depths. Our bloodthirsty fish tears apart families. I wanted mine back.

Not only did I learn to read time that Saturday, but I also realized that the world could be a dangerous place, death possible at any moment, by any means, and without so much as a forewarning, I could be abandoned to fend for myself. I paced the living room, the kitchen, and the den, where hung pencil portraits of my brother, sister, and me. We were the first family to occupy the house. When we had moved in two years prior, it was near the end of its construction. Workmen in the dining area were putting the finishing touches to wall shelves. The aroma of paint wafted throughout, making me reel with its newness. Its pungency assured me that home and family were forever. We had returned to Manila from Tokyo. Back in the land of my birth, I discovered things I never knew exist. “Look, Mommy, tiny crocodiles,” I said of lizards on the bathroom walls. Cockroaches fly at ankle height, and the 7,000 islands cultivate 80 varieties of bananas. Every day was another chapter to a story in progress that I shared with mom, dad, brother, and sister. An ending was too soon.

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Come back. Come back. Families must never suffer the senseless loss of a loved one. And yet, they do. We never know what news awaits us on TV, in a letter, or on the internet. We can be sure of one thing only, that the next disaster is an hour away. Malaysia Airlines is jinxed, so people say. In 2014, the company attracted global attention thrice with fallen commercial carriers that produced a combined fatality count of 699. Jyoti Singh Pandey, a 23-year-old woman, died after six men on a private bus in New Delhi sexually assaulted her with an iron rod, placing India in the spotlight in 2012 for its lax laws against rape. Just last month, a driver, allegedly drunk, plowed into spectators at the Oklahoma State Fair, killing a handful of people, including a three-year-old infant, and injuring 47 others. The woman was 25. “That’s not who she was. That’s not who I raised,” Floyd Chambers said of his daughter, Adacia, amid the media mania. “She was kind, caring. She loved music. She was a wonderful artist.” Too bad. None of this matters now.

The great white shark exists in different forms, whether at sea or on land. It can leap out of nowhere with the speed of a bullet, and in an instant, someone is dead – a sister, a cousin, an uncle… So that our parents and children be less wide open to danger, we have people like Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) and Oceanographer Martin Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) in “Jaws,” both who team up with shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw), to put an end to the slaughters. They investigate aviation accidents, picket against the violation of civil rights, and penalize those who cause havoc at the wrong swerve of the steering wheel. Life is sacred because a life lost is a family’s loss.

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Amity Island regains its reputation as a summer paradise. The sun smiles. The breeze sings. The ocean dances. Outside my parents’ window, a honk and a creak of the gate sent me into a spin. As the family car rushed up the driveway, I anticipated full chairs at the dinner table. The five of us would continue as before – Sunday church, sugar and melted butter on toast, “The Carol Burnett Show,” and karate lessons in the park. Every hour from dusk onward promised the security of the familiar.

This was 40 years ago. Today I reside across the Pacific, and my father walks with a cane. The head count at the dinner table on Christmas has increased to 11, and my mother turns 80 in three months. Placid as life has been through the decades, an undercurrent of trouble brews, a shark that threatens to snatch those I love whose days on earth grow ever more tenuous because of age and ailment. So be it. I hail from a sturdy stock. Come what may, the force of family will never die. It has embedded in me the ability to endure.

“The Third Man”: Sacrifice in Silence

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With love comes sacrifice. The price is worth it when the person for whom we kill a part of ourselves is obligated to us in return. Love is elevated to a higher level… we’ve proven our worth… and promises are enunciated in return that ground in earthly facts the esoteric commitment for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do we part: “I will be by your side even if you become a quadriplegic… I will take care of you if you have a stroke… You can count on me no matter that we lose our home to foreclosure and shack up in a van.” But what if the dear one misjudges our action, the full truth behind our sacrifice too hurtful for the person to bear, so we keep it covert and sustain criticism?

What we have is “The Third Man” (1949). Joseph Cotten is Holly Martins, an American pulp fiction author who goes to Vienna when a childhood friend, Harry Lime (Orseon Welles), offers him a job. Upon his arrival, Martins learns that Lime has died under suspicious circumstances. He stays to investigate, only to discover that Limes is alive; the pal’s name on a tombstone is a ruse. Lime is a black marketer, his contraband penicillin stolen from army hospitals and diluted with a substance that causes physical deformities and fatalities, many of the victims being children. In Lime’s monologue about the survival of the fittest, he reveals himself to be so empty of compunction that he would murder even his most trusted friend. The two have a shoot out in the city’s underground sewage system, a montage of tunnels and shadows against concave walls, and though justice prevails, Martins must deal with the thorny task of regaining the trust of Lime’s girlfriend. The guy has fallen for her.

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Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli) is herself guilty of her share of misdemeanors – a false passport, accomplice to Lime’s hiding – but she is ignorant of the vileness of her boyfriend’s business. Lime, as far as she’s concerned, is a dabbler in shady deals of no serious consequence, and at the moment, he has sunken into nothing more than an unlucky break. While she first appreciates Martins for the sincerity of his friendship, a rarity in this Vienna of furtive glances and stalkers who lurk in corners, she later considers him a traitor. Martins has cooperated with the authorities to apprehend Lime in exchange for the nullification of her deportation to the Soviet sector of the city. She gets a safety passage to the West instead. Unbeknownst to Schmidt is that Martins does this only when the extent of Lime’s crimes are disclosed to him.

“Look at yourself,” Schmidt tells Martins at the train station. “They have names for faces like that.” He has answered her question as to why the police are granting her the favor of freedom. Disappointed, she furthermore berates Martins his appellation of Holly. “What kind of name is that for a man?” Schmidt rejects the deal. Such is her loyalty to Lime and her anger at Martins. Martins could have aired all of Lime’s dirty laundry, but that would not have been a decent method to earn Schmidt’s affection. It’s a sticky situation, being glued to someone who wants no attachment to us, watching one’s resentment for us intensify as the person he or she clutches to the heart is the actual villain. Even had Martins bared Lime’s dealings, Schmidt would not necessarily have wept on our hero’s shoulder, her tears an invitation to the condolement of a kiss.

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Some things are better left unsaid. Silence spares a person pain. We can write what is too much of a burden to keep buried within, and only to ourselves, though even this is dangerous, for a diary is a Pandora’s box. In it we unload sinful thoughts and seraphic fancies, the seismic tremors of the soul from hatred to a forbidden love. When opened, all that springs forth from its pages cannot be recanted. Martins, for Schmidt’s sake, is a book bound in lock and key.

Life is replete with moments where we run the risk of secrets exposed. “Don’t worry, she didn’t read much,” my sister told me the night I came out. We were walking up Powell Street, headed home from a day of Thanksgiving shopping in Union Square, San Francisco’s downtown, where an 83-foot Christmas tree and a colossal menorah, one across from the other amid an enclave of buildings, both illuminated the night, the former with light bulbs encased in balls and the latter in glass flames. Cable car bells rang as wheels rumbled on tracks, and pine wreaths decked display windows. That was how my mother found out I’m gay. While visiting from the Philippines, she read my journal, which I had left on the dining table, and in it I had written of excursions to video arcades, the only venue then where I could express my sexual identity.

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I had a secret. My mother had a secret. Since she couldn’t contain mine, she called my father in Manila, who then instructed my sister in Los Angeles to inform me on her holiday trip to the Bay Area that they now know of me. Although the revelation saved me the anxiety of sitting my parents down for a formal coming out moment, my journal remained a hushed matter. My sister was merely meant to tell me that I need not hide anymore, not that my mother had glimpsed my inner workings – insecurities and desires and all. My parents still believe I am in the dark about this. So be it. That was 25 years ago, and what my mother had read rocked her nerves. Aside from an epidemic linked to gay men, she and my father had lost something, and of this loss I justified its gravity to friends when they deplored the difficulty a buddy of theirs was experiencing with his own parents upon his coming out.

“In the four seconds it takes to say, ‘Mom, Dad, I’m gay,’ the dreams your parents have been harboring for you all the years of your life are shattered,” I said. They couldn’t comprehend why the blow to Gable’s parents (yes, Gable, named after Clark) since the parents had accepted the homosexuality of a family friend whom they considered “like a son.” My contention was that embraced as this person was, his position was not the same as that of a biological child. From the minute of our birth, our mothers and fathers foresee in us a future opulent with the sort of happiness they had experienced, all of which culminated in our first cry. Courtship, marriage, and parenthood… love’s rituals that every generation celebrates were denied gay men in the 1990s. Gable’s folks were suddenly confronted with a tomorrow that was murky, as the present was licentiousness and death, and history was police raids of public bathrooms with men dragged in hand cuffs to paddy wagons, their names in the following day’s newspapers that listed them as sexual deviants.

My parents never told me what I had taken away from them by coming out. “I thought you were going to marry a Miss Universe,” my father joked when he flew in from Manila, while my mother urged that I be careful. That was all. I’m certain the worry and fear in Gable’s parents weighed on my parents, too, but of what else more, I will never know. In their silence, my mother and father permitted me the freedom to live as I am. I am fortunate to know this. I wish Anna Schmidt in “The Third Man” would give Holly Martins the privilege of acknowledging the degree to which he lays out his neck for her. Maybe, in another story, she will read in tomorrow’s papers the slime bucket Harry Lime was, and our quiet hero will at last get the prize that is duly his.

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“King Kong”: All or Nothing

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It was beauty that killed the beast. The monster in reference is “King Kong” (1933), a 24-inch model made of rubber, rabbit fur, and aluminum. Never in our worst nightmare had we imagined that a toy gorilla the height of a table lamp would tower over the Manhattan skyline. His every footfall smashes thoroughfares, and his roar deafens with the blast of the A-bomb. Kong turns Fifth Avenue into a war zone. Bravo to the feats of special effects, which augments in importance as our fuzzy menace scales the tallest building in the world. This is no mere pageantry of destruction. Kong is in love. The creature that has pierced his soft spot is a human female, blonde and beautiful Anne Darow (Fay Wray). Kong really doesn’t mean any harm, only a crew of movie people has abducted him from his island habitat, battling head hunters and dinosaurs in the process, and in man’s hunt for the green demon, it has transplanted him to New York, where bejeweled ladies and gentlemen in black tie cash in to behold the reigning monarch of jungle vines belittled in shackles. Movie people, I tell ya.

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What a cycle of exploitation “King Kong” is. The spear throwers kidnap Anne in the darkness of a foggy night from the ship where she lies asleep. As Kong’s bride, she’s tied by the wrists to a pair of posts for him to snatch and abscond with into the jungle. The film men search for her. In their find, Kong becomes a prisoner. No animal rights activism here. It’s doubtful vegetarians existed in the 1930s with the superfluity they do now, and with America entrapped in economic turmoil, audiences needed to witness a beast onto whom they could vent their frustrations tumble from the highest peak. Some things haven’t changed. We still have an affinity for monster flicks, the show of us humans toppling a giant, whether the oversized freak is in the form of a nuclear mutant by the name of Godzilla or an assembly of trucks and cars that transforms into a robot. They’re exhibitions of innovation. But none is as impactful as Kong. I feel for the ape. I understand him.

Don’t tell me you wouldn’t fight to the death for something or somebody you really want. We all need a passion. Pity those who float through life without a desire that causes a bout of chest thumping and a growl. In everyday life, we call this stubbornness. We’re born with it. As babies, we cry and thrash our limbs for a craving to be fed since we haven’t yet developed the skill of language. Then we learn our A, B, C’s. Eloquence mitigates temper tantrums. Or so we think. Our tearful pouting persists in adulthood. We’ve just trained ourselves to sublimate it. Even though we may plummet from the sky because our wings are of wax, we don’t give up. We struggle to fly. We’ve made it so high, up there with the gods, the vastness of the world our own by virtue of the vista we’ve only thus far seen in pictures, read of in books – oceans and seas the blue of topaz, mountains we can trace with our fingertips, clouds wispy as the spirit of doves gone. Higher. Higher. This is what we’ve dreamed of, worked for, sacrificed over. And now we’re falling. Shit!

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My father has said that I was one impossible kid. We’d be walking on the streets when I’d stop in my tracks and cry upon spotting a toy that would trigger a red siren in my head. “What?” he’d ask. No answer, only an escalating whale and incessant finger pointing. I must incontestably have been a tiny terror, for on this subject the rest of my family has a catalogue of accounts, among them which involves a nanny that quit on me, the first child ever in her decades of experience. I can vouch for one. It’s about a beast. Nearly 40 years before “Kung Fu Panda” (2008), I came across a stuffed bear as cute and gargantuan as Po, our martial arts caniform. My father and I were in a Hong Kong mall. We had climbed up a flight of stairs to the next level and there he was. Belly to sink into, front and hind legs cushioned stumps, he occupied the entire display window from floor to ceiling. Mini-bears dangled around him like cub cherubs. He was every little boy’s Buddha. “That’s not for sale,” my father insisted. “That’s decoration.” Me: “WahahaaWaahaahaa…” Although I may not have gotten the object of my mewling, I was enough of a disturbance that to silence me, my parents gave me a teddy bear that was as large as I.

“The good thing is that you don’t quit,” my father would say years later. My doggedness has served me well as a writer. Rejections may wound me, but I never bend. Each no urges me to step up one more rung on the ladder to the top. This had to come from somewhere, my bull’s eye on the point closest to heaven. My grandmother once told me of an altercation she had had with my mother over a piano. She spoke as though the incident had happened a week before, no matter that she was suffering from dementia, her memory shot from an aneurism. “Nagkagera kami ng mommy mo tungkol sa piano na iyan. Nangnakuha niya, hindi niya naman tinugtog. Bwisit na piano!” Grandma Susan’s rant that a war had broken out between her and my mother, and that my mother never played the piano upon getting it, humored me. That she spoke with such fire in closing her outburst by damning the instrument meant she still had life in her. We were perusing my mother’s scrapbooks. Black and white pictures in corner holders filled the pages like black ink on white tiles. I have no recollection of the image that triggered Grandma Susan’s scorn. What I do see is one of my mother in heels and a skirt a richness of fabric, her waist tiny and hair voluminous, as she sits, in a sofa, with a smile that radiates confidence in her beauty and the power it yielded her.

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The stubbornness persists in the generation after me. “Ang tigas ng ulo mo,” my father once told my nephew. Ryan was the age I had been when I made a scene over the teddy bear. Taking my father’s comment of hard headedness in a literal sense, Ryan knocked his knuckle against his skull. “Talagang matigas, eh.” We laughed at his defense that a cranium is meant to be solid. No joke, however, is the solidity of direction he has shown as an adult to be an artist in his own right, music his medium of creativity. Although Ryan doesn’t read notes, melody flows from his fingertips with a strum of the guitar and a tap of the keyboard. He writes songs, having performed his tunes in pubs and talent shows while at the University of Edinburgh and Emory in Atlanta. Ryan was earning a degree in business. Music was meant to be a hobby. But when we’re that good, our talent assumes a value that surpasses the treasures in Ali-Baba’s cave. Upon graduating, my nephew declined job offers in finance to enter music school in Los Angeles, where he experienced his episode as a struggling artist – stale pizza on the kitchen counter, weight loss, and peddling demos here and there. Will being what it is, he has found his niche in Asia. His songs are requested listening on radio airwaves.

Kong doesn’t deserve his end. The pocketful of gold that is Anne Darow was offered to him as a fruit to pluck; therefore, pluck he did. Her abduction wasn’t his doing. He is guilty of no crime. Snatched of Anne, Kong fights to reclaim what he believes is rightfully his, all or nothing. We would do the same. If given half a glass of water, we in our optimism are supposed to appreciate the little we can imbibe. I disagree. We’re entitled to a crystal goblet filled to the rim. So we charge onward.

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