WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: The Clark proposition

This summer, hubby thought that maybe we can again travel farther than two hops. But first, we did several rounds of overnights at resorts just to be sure that the girls would take to sleeping away from home. Then it was time to go on an extended holiday. Hubby's proposition: How would you guys want to see Clark, Pampanga? He was heading down there for the AnCom of the Free and Accepted Masons.

Meeting up with us at the airport, he was quite flabbergasted with the number of bags his three females had in tow. Mama has a rule: Pack your own bag. As Dad respects the rule, so do the girls.

They decided to bring along all those stuff they believed they needed in the next six days. Between the two of them, they brought a dozen books.

Also, the only way to get Sage to come was to allow her bedmates to come along. That's fifteen stuffed toys, four keychains, two balls, one plastic squeakie turtle, and one blanket. Free plane fare for everyone.

We spent three quiet days in Clark where there really was nothing to do unless you merely wanted to burn a hole in your pocket buying up no-fat, less-fat, no-sugar, less-sugar, low-calorie junk food, the kind you find on the shelves of any self-respecting grocery at a supermall. If what the duty free shops had on display was a representation of what found their way to the dining tables of homes all over America, those people must be on an eternal diet. Depressing.

American junk. And they're still dumping it here in duty free shops where the cash registers spoke fluently in two languages.

Walking the bike lanes, I met an elderly ati who looked like she had lived forever. She sold me a birdcaller and a bamboo flute for Php20 each. They gave out sounds so pure, so haunting and true, the melodic echo hanging suspended in the air long after the trill has gone. She smiled benignly at my amateur attempt to break the hushed silence. She looked like she could have waited forever till I got the notes right. We parted with a smile and a wave.I found it hard going trying to explain to an uninterested audience the symbolisms in the landmarks in what used to be a military airbase. Who in the blue was Clark anyway? Many times, Sage would remind me that I taught psychology, not history. And all I wanted was for the girls to look out of the car's window as it moved through the wide, well-maintained, generally empty streets of the export processing zone. After a while, I took to calling Clark the town of high hopes. Or lost dreams.

But at least, the management has tamed the lahar plains somewhat. It indeed is a marked difference from when the forlorn and desolate landscape was all the eye could see. Pinatubo's past fury is for now just a memory. Or maybe not. The elderly ati's enigmatic smile told me that.

I found a rare pebble nestled in the powdery ground. This stone had the memory of this place. I put it back.

We were staying at a villa in Fontana Leisure Park on the northeast section of Clark. It's a nice, quiet place all told, but they really should provide each unit with a bike. It was bad enough waking up without coffee. With only one car servicing seven people, I had to wait in line or walk a mile before I could get to McDonalds and a caffeine fix. God knows I need so many in a day.

The high point to the day was watching birds chasing each other among the pine trees. Late into the night, we would lie on the manicured lawn and gaze at the stars. Liane climbed a tree at midnight, maybe to stop her from climbing up walls instead.

On our second day there, the centralized aircon at the villa we were sharing with Eming Dy and George Cabebe gave out. We took that as a sign to move on. The kids were never happier in Clark as when we herded them down to SM on the southwestern corner of the zone. National Bookstore! Quantum! Netopia! Not to mention food as they know it.

I was savoring a quiet smoke at a bench in the parking lot when a nervous thirty-something guy approached me with a delicate question. I found his problem too amusing to be offended really. Of course, my husband had a different reaction when I told him about it. It's been a long time since I last got mistaken for someone who could hook up strange men with sex workers, but the encounter kind of affirmed for me my ability to effortlessly blend into the milieu of an American GI resort town, and never mind if it is now a resort town for retired American GIs. Lost dreams. Monkey see, monkey do.

Hubby checks out how I'm decked on the notion that I might have been propositioned. It would be hard to find fault with my jacket and jeans, the way they covered all of me. Speculation, really. I wasn't propositioned, I just asked if I knew women who would be willing to go out on a date.

Whatever the case, I chalked it up to WAS (Woman Alone Syndrome). MaybeWAWACS (Woman Alone With A Cigarette Syndrome). It didn't help, I guess, that I had a Good Morning towel over my shoulder. In some racy towns, that says you're still in business for as long as there still is a dry section on your towel.

At least, he didn't ask me where to score. For a while there, I thought illegal drugs was the guy's problem the way his words ran into each other, his glassy eyes darting about, his jerky movements and flushed cheeks. Not unheard of in a town where they would only sell you cigarettes if you gave your name and home address. I wished the guy good luck on his quest.

Clark would have been an unremarkable memory, one that left a slightly bad taste in the mouth, if not for a friend who drove for dinner all the way from Bulacan so my southern daughters could meet his northern sons. You can't be strangers to each other now, kids. We broke bread together.

Touch and go. You and me. Yours and mine. That's what friendship is all about. Some friends stay truer than others.

The kids now know where Clark is on the map. In a pinch, they could probably describe it in terms of the landmarks they so desperately avoided – the Canine Cemetery, in particular. However, they were just as eager as I was to take the last bus to Baguio than to spend one more night in the town of lost dreams.

One husband, one wife, two daughters, fifteen stuffed toys, four keychains, two balls, one plastic squeakie turtle, and one blanket. To the bus. (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan's column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to gail.ilagan@gmail.com. "Send at the risk of a reply," she says.)