America: Camp John Hay

~ Baguio City

You were the air base turned R&R
     place where we could gape at
the marvel of uniformly clipped grass
     and level golf ovals, each punctured 
with one hole and a slender flag. There
     was a place called The 19th Tee
where we could order exotic things 
     like chipped beef on toast or 
scrapple cakes and eggs; and the Tee
     Bar where our brothers and uncles
sat on stools, ordering gin tonics and
     peanuts instead of San Miguel beer. 
We'd bowl or play pool; and on Sundays, 
     listen to Tim Tesoro's band riff on 
Sinatra as we ate roast turkey or $5 
     Porterhouse steaks. America, you were 
1,764 acres of prime woodland reservation 
     named after the Secretary of State 
in Mckinley's and Roosevelt's administrations. 
     America, you claim to have bought it 
off the hands of a local chieftain for 
     a pittance, but his heirs pointed out 
that the deed of transfer is dated at least 
     three years after his death. This 
little pocket of clean American living is 
     what you say you made to remind you 
and your armed forces personnel of the paradise 
     they left behind when they shipped out 
to our inhospitable hills. America, even then
     we were trained to stand behind 
the cafeteria serving counters and fry 
     baskets, the manicure stations at 
the beauty parlor; the popcorn machine 
     at the Base Theatre, the old-fashioned 
shoeshine stands in front of Mile Hi. But 
     no Filipino used to be allowed as guest 
on the base except when accompanied 
     by a US citizen, until the '80s and then 
the expiration of the RP-US Bases Agreement. 
     America, though we didn't go there 
that often, you're always remembered as this 
     nostalgic postcard from the '60s: our 
mothers and aunts in miniskirts and cat-eye 
     glasses, big hair poufed by hairspray; 
our fathers in polos or varsity sweaters and
     pants. Once, an older white man winked
and stooped down to my level; he said Watch out, 
    someday you're going to be a heartbreaker.    

 

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