Hellmantle's time in the city of sin on Christmas Eve
Angeles City, Pampanga
When they reached Angeles
City, D'Aqs wanted to stay in the hotel and eat but Hellmantle insisted on
dinner at a place called Margaretville's. It also happened to be
Christmas Eve. A mile or two of nothing but bars and nightclubs for thirsty
travelers, the strip was just across the fence from the old American base,
which was now empty and barren. When the Americans left after Mount Pinatubo
erupted in 1991, much of the city became a ghost town but it kept up its
reputation as a city of sin with its strip of clubs and brothels. In such a
staunchly Catholic country, it was like Tijuana during Prohibition.
Shin still sore, Hellmantle
limped to the bar where they sat next to an old US Marine with cropped hair and
deep lines in his face and neck. The Marine was a little unsteady from too much
Christmas cheer. Finding good food was a bonus and the beer quenched their
thirst, but things turned sour when the Marine became embittered. For a while
they ate in silence, listening.
"They kicked us out in
ninety-one and now they spend all this money - that they don't have - to
operate our old equipment. Everything we left them is falling apart!" Rock
music pumped out of the jukebox, hookers at the bar and everywhere else,
Angeles City had a dead weight cast over it like a blackened lung gurgling for
its last breath. "Bloody Hell! Do people forget about Macarthur?" said the
Marine, raising his voice.
"I've seen the statue of
General Macarthur within the old walls of Intramurous and on the island
of Corrigedor," said Hellmantle. "He was a great man in local Philippine
history but his importance has diminished since the war. Nationalism now blunts
the fine-tuning fork that was once Manila's." His words went some way to quell
the old man's temper.
"You're a smart kid. Did you
know that Clark Air Force base had the highest re-enlistment rate of any
American base?" His ticked-off bluntness appealed to Hellmantle, which opened
the gates to his own verbal tirade.
"Sure. There was a hierarchy
of landed knights here who postured among the elite but slipped into the
hedonism of vice, slanderous untruth and desperation. Regardless of whether
they wore berets in battle or in cafés, these men all shared a common currency:
the Angeles experience. It was the hard-man's Hilton Head, a piece of
ass they called their own." D'Aqs watched the activities of old single men and
their Philippina escorts sitting around the bar with long faces on the eve of
Jesus Christ's birth. If there was one night to see sorry faces, this was it.
It sent a chill through him, motivating him to get an early start the next day.
"Society is going backwards
here," said the Marine.
"These men have earned their
time and they aren't about to apologize about anything." The marine
nodded, enjoying such an informed opinion from such a young man. "Perhaps the
only Achilles Heel these hardened blokes have is smart-assed youths entering
their world with a 21st-century attitude. But to be fair, like
fathers long separated from their sons, guys here want to hand down their
wisdom to the next wave of independent thinkers so that the muster of their overcoming
won't be lost to the silent ears of time." Something in D'Aqs told
him that his cousin was moving towards risk of injury if he kept talking in
such a direct manner.
"I had always wondered: Where
do they all go? Where do all the good men go who had stepped up to bat
during the sixties and seventies in Vietnam, faced divorce in the eighties and
then retired in the nineties? Where did they settle, these worn men of action?
They live here in Angeles City, close to the old base that I'm sure
still conjures up memories of a lost time."
"You're not wrong son."
"America is too sugarcoated
for them and Europe is too culturally snobby, but here their monthly stipend
goes far. The Philippines offers the ideal solution. It affords them relative
wealth, fun, good climate and English. For historically mature
Americans, it's still a colony that they fought for twice in history: once from
the Spanish, and once from the Imperial Army of Japan."
"Bloody Japs." D'Aqs
"There have been more than
enough American deaths to justify the adopted posture of many who are here who
believe that this country is still part of the American sphere of influence, or
in other words, their own."
tell you kid, I do. This is still our colony."
"Americans still permeate
the ruling class of this nightclub utopia of sin. Here you can live with the
buying power of kings. Now with grown children and long-lost wives, you guys
can live out your bachelor lives of the early years. Angeles City is your turf,
your home base; you have earned your elitism from your life's work. So there
shouldn't be anyone depriving you of your personal space of jollification."
This boosted the vim of the Marine, leading him to rant.
"Why can't those fat cats in
government get some money together and fix the potholes and sludge on the
streets? How difficult is it to fix a pothole?"
"Yes, basic maintenance of
society is beginning to wane. A devolution backwards, it's becoming a place
where Marines are ridiculed as being part of the problem," Hellmantle shot
"But if you have such issues
like this, then why do you choose to live here?" asked D'Aqs.
"I live off my pension from
the army, like your brother here said, just the same as many of these guys
here. And the Philippines is one of the only places where I can live
comfortably off that money. Otherwise I would be back in the States poor as a turd."
It wasn't in D'Aqs nature to castigate those worthy of castigation.
"Why not in Thailand?"
"Because they don't speak
English. And in Angeles there are a lot of us vets who can relive memories from
Nam as your brother said, and we can drink Tsing Tao, still made at the
brewery Germans built in their old colony in China, in the north I think. It's
the best local number, second to only the premium-imported beers of Europe."
The Marine raised his pint glass. "Here's to Christmas. It's Jesus' birthday
after all." Hellmantle didn't raise his glass.
"Jesus was actually born on
Sunday, March 1st in 7BC," he said, all serious, and full of booze.
"The things you read
Hellmantle!" said D'Aqs, trying to deflect. "Careful not to believe everything
you read." D'Aqs' right eye twitched from fatigue.
the eldest son from the Royal House of David is born," he said, slowly and
clearly as if teaching a group of imbeciles, "he must be born in September.
This is because the royal couple has marital relations for only one month every
year: in December. Any offspring born outside of September would be regarded as
illegitimate. Since Jesus was born on March 1st, He was never
accepted by the ruling council of elders - the Pharisees - as the heir to
Joseph. But since His younger brother James was born in September six years
later, it was James who was accepted as the legitimate inheritor of the eldest
son status. To inherit the title Joseph, that all eldest males inherit
in the royal line, one must be born in September. And that's why James came to
be known as Joseph of Arimathea, why their father was known as Joseph,
and perhaps why Jesus came to be known during his life as a bit of a militant
revolutionary and rebel."
where did you read this?" asked the Marine. "A comic book?" He stood
abruptly, took his leave in a swoon of sin, waddling off with a Philippina
forty years his junior.
"Why are you so adamant
about all this stuff?"
"I have read the great books
by authors who went forward with courage and wrote down the truth for the sake
of truth-seekers like me. And as a Hellmantle, it is my duty to take the
mantle and run with it. Now, my missionary cousin, does that make sense to
you?" The thought of taking these books away from Hellmantle crossed his mind,
"So then do you think you're
rational?" The question remained untouched for some time before
"You mean you think I'm a
little short of salt in the brain-pan? That's funny, but I probably am. No
matter. As long as I keep my business in front of me, my dear Sancho Panza,
I shall be moving forward with my quest." Acting as both friend and minister of
the spirit, D'Aqs took issue with him gently as would a doctor to a mental