Loving a Place and Leaving It

Today is a Saturday of deep despair.

This despair has no name.

Not even a naming ceremony of the 'sirok-ti-latok' kind can remedy this heaviness of the heart.

At 8:30, the sun has just set, but the last lights of the day come as a fuzzy haze of orange and bloody red.

Or crimson, the color of courage.

It is not yet night in these parts.

Evening comes late when the clouds are high and the winds are in the mountaintops and the tide teases the rocks on cliffs in Palos Verdes, this enclave of the moneyed and the poweful in the Southlands, the other name for Southern California.

In this summer season, the days are long despite the fact that in the East Coast, the mindful have began to worry about the prelude to the typhoon season, with Alberto's gift of water and wind steaming and storming the Florida lands of Hispanics and migrants, Cuban Americans and other exiles from all over.

I breathe deeply.

I sense my connection to Los Angeles, the other city and county I have learned to like.

The place I have learned to love.

In a few days, I shall start the transition from a permanent resident of this place to a transient visitor.

I do intend to maintain two residences, one here and the other in Honolulu just to even the terrain of a memory that makes me alive and kicking.

Then again, the painful reality is this: that Honolulu will claim me as its own as well and I will allow that claiming to happen if only to struggle to survive.

If only to struggle to be alive.

There are other cities in this nation awaiting my exploration, my liking, my loving, I know.

But like the faithful visitor and then eventually a visitor-that-did-not-leave, it is in Los Angeles that I got to see America for what it is.

And today, this Saturday of my deep despair, a despair without any name, I decided not to go home at once and work on my blog, as I always do.

On the road, I felt this pang of pain, the one that gets into the guts, and kicks you in as if you are some kind of a ball to be tossed in the air and then kicked again as soon as it hits the earth.

And in an endless bouncing of ball and the motion of kicking earth, the ball bouncing up to the heavens that do not seem to darken because the electric lights on businesses and on happy streets are taking over the duty to mask the coming night.

I look at the Del Amo mall, reputedly the largest of the shopping complex in SoCal, perhaps a bit smaller than the Mall of Asia in Pasay, the mall that is neighbor to one shrine of the Christ, the shrine administered by the SVD Fathers.

I look at the neon lights, their promise of eternal dawn.

No, window shopping always bores me.

I have no virtue to satiate my visual faculty by imagining that I can afford to buy the branded shirts manufactured by Asian factory hands whose salary is as meager as the blessings of rice when hunger sets in and resides in the bones and the stomach.

I hit the road.

I hit the road to anywhere.

Anywhere. Basta.

First off, I thought of going to the Blessed Sacrament in St Philomena on Main.

This church is where Filipino Americans congregate, mingling with all the colors of people in this nation of immigrants: the Blacks, the Asian Pacific American Samoans, the Hispanics, the other Asiatics, the native Latin Americans.

Right before your very eyes, it is at St Philomena where you see the beginnings of a community defined pure and simple in the 'Acts of the Apostles,' with the Sunday singing of worship songs in Filipino (well, call that Tagalog, if you wish), Samoan, the Spanish of the Hispanics. I am imagining to hear a song or two sung in Ilokano but the imagination has failed me.

It is also at St Philomena that I met once again, by the accidental power of Christmas, on that Christmas Day Mass, a classmate in theology school who is now running a parish in Cerritos.

I remember that I taught in the Quezon City seminary of this priest but did not have the chance to meet him there because he was busy bringing all the pilgrims to the Holy Land and I was busy giving my share in the forming of the 'religious mind' of their seminarians.

It would take St Philomena, on Christmas day, for us to bridge the more than twenty years of not seeing each other.

Here, in the sacredness of the hour before 9:00 post meridian, they had closed the small chapel on the right of the church.

I go back to the parking lot defeated, disappointed, dejected.

Under a lamppost, I write:

They closed the chapel to hide the Blessed Sacrament in the evenings so that we could see it again and adore it again the following day because the robber is not given any chance at all to turn the bejeweled chalice into pieces of American silver that bears 'In God we trust'.

I hopped in on my old, trustworthy white Mazda and get out of the church yard.

I am directionless--and that is my direction at this hour.

Ahead of me is the Seafood City, one landmark of Filipinoness.

Here, the kababayans congregate to get the latest chismis on Kris Aquino and them the stars that make us forget our hunger and the injustices in the homeland, to discuss the pathetic politics of the ugly politicians with familiar and infamous names, to win believers to a fellowship such that of the many youngs and singing and zealous evangelists on a mission to convert all immigrant Filipinos to the cause of salvation not on this earth but in heaven, to pose for posterity at the statue of Jose Rizal with his overcoat, to see and to be seen.

I turn left on Carson and then right on Avalon.

Carson is where we imagined The Weekly Inquirer.

It is the street, across Grace, on Grace Commercial Square that we imagined the best paper of them all, the paper that would advocate im/migrant rights.

Avalon is where I would stop after taking the bus from downtown Los Angeles in the early months of my coming over to this city and county, when fame and fortune were wild dreams, as wild as the fantastic that is twin to hitting the numbers game here in the various waging places, the casinos of the Native Americans, them who now depend on this for work and state support.

I have good memories of Avalon: this is the same street that leads to the city hall where I got to meet the mayor and had him featured many times in the Inquirer.

One wintry night, I sat here alone in this bus stop waiting for the last bus coming from Long Beach.

It was 11:00 PM, and the cold gets into the tired bones even if I had thermal and the long sleeves, the double jacket, and the bonete and the balabal.

And I was hungry and chilling while a homeless, young and articulate and an orphan, was also waiting for that same bus to take him to a park on Main where he would spend the night, away from the prying eyes of the police.

I have been doing this for months, he says. They took away my home as soon as my parents died. I used to go to school, in my senior. But here I am, alone and with the sky as my roof. Dunno where else to go. I have turned 18 and I am supposed to know how to live. But where?

I just looked at him, and Avalon comes to me as a painful memory.

I still remember where that young man sat, waiting and waiting for that last bus to come before the cold winds of winter could get into our bodies.

Farther up towards the 405 Freeway is the post office and past the freeway is the Carson Commercial complex that I went to, in April 2003, to find out what the meager dollar can buy.

I remember now that I had to get three buses from Gardena where I used to live in order to get here to this complex: the Gardena 4, the Gardena 2, and the Torrance 3.

And I remember one sad event as well: I lost my one field journal with all the notes on my first days of exile in the U.S. mainland, my first two or three weeks of finding out if there is something greener down here, something greener than what the brown country of brown people and brown promises offered.

I had to reconstruct those notes by going back to my organizer and to notes scattered here and there, some from receipts, some from paper napkins taken from fancy restaurants and cafes.

I meticulously did the reconstruction while self-reviewing for the California examination for teachers.

I took a left turn on Avalon and moved to Del Amo.

For almost a year, I took a job in Artesia and there, every morning and every evening, I would pass by this long stretch of road, about 23 miles, to get to work or to go home.

As soon as I hit the bridge spanning the 405, I would smell the soil on that vacant lot, the smell of soil newly furrowed. Barrio life hits me hard when I reach this place.

I got past the underpass spanning 110 going to Los Angeles, to the 91 or to some place else.

I hit Vermont, turn right on Carson going west, to the hills of Redondo Beach, to the seashores of Redondo, Manhattan, Palos Verdes.

I take in all the scenes, each scene.

I hit Harbor UCLA Hospital.

It is here where I had my first traffic violation, the ticket issued by an overzealous highway patrol and for which violation I had to contest in court.

In my heart, I believed I could win my case. I thought that overzealousness is not different from fanaticism and fundamentalism and force.

I was acquitted, my bail money returned, right before christmas day.

I memorize all the details so that when these details are needed when I get to sit down and write my three years of exilic life in Los Angeles, I will have something to say by connecting all the jigsaw pieces together.

No, all is not lost in this leaving.

We always leave a beloved place in order to return to it some other time.

A. S. Agcaoili
Torrance, CA
Began June 17, finished June 19, 2006


rva said...

apay, mang ariel, panawamon ti ciudad dagiti anghel? ngem nasken dagiti panagpanaw tapno adda latta dagiti papanan ken kaipapanan.

Ariel said...

agpayso ti kunam, adingko. pumanawtayo tapno adda rason nga agsublitayo, di ngamin? panawakon ti los angheles ta mapanak mangisuro idiay honolulu. ngem subliak a kankanayon, iti man dapan wenno iti lagip. ditoy ti nakakitaak ti pudpudno nga amerika, ti agdadata nga amerika iti kinapudnona ken iti kinapalsona.