Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year

THANKS TO BARACK for approving this pay raise before he leaves office. I'm not telling you where I am here, but I'll tell you this: I have a new resolution. I am upgrading from the diet COLA after years of salary freezes. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016


Earless pig head lechon (already power saw-split so you can partake of the brain) for $3 from Shun Wang, Elmhurst, with the tree, thermostat, hibiscus and Sara's piano and Spanish book in the background. Buen provecho!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Merry Christmas

BECAUSE NEW YORK must have its air cargo, I was drafted to do targeting in the early hours of Christmas Day, after the original guy protested with his seniority. Rats. At least they put my name in red. And my family vowed to save those giblets for me.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

West Side Story

NOTHING BETTER to make the heebie-jeebies go away on this cold autumn evening than this recently discovered video of Neneth Ortega Lyons from last year's X Factor UK. Head-down humble Pinay housewife from Chelmsford, UK nails a Broadway song. Man, can this lady sing, and with such power. Too bad she didn't get enough votes in the final round.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Especially When The October Wind

The writing shed

OCTOBER 27 will mark Dylan Thomas' 63rd year in heaven, really his 102nd birthday. Though born and raised in Swansea, Wales, he did most of his writing in a shed overlooking the estuary of the River Taf in the small fishing village of Laugharne where he had moved his family during hard times. Two weeks after his 39th birthday, in New York City, he was dead, but in his short life he had written some of the finest poems in the English language. One in a group of birthday poems that include "Poem in October" and "Poem on His Birthday", this piece epitomizes the theme that is central to his poems: "biology as a magical transformation producing unity out of diversity, and the creation of a poetic ritual to celebrate it."

Especially When The October Wind

Especially when the October wind
With frosty fingers punishes my hair,
Caught by the crabbing sun I walk on fire
And cast a shadow crab upon the land,
By the sea's side, hearing the noise of birds,
Hearing the raven cough in winter sticks,
My busy heart who shudders as she talks
Sheds the syllabic blood and drains her words.

Shut, too, in a tower of words, I mark
On the horizon walking like the trees
The wordy shapes of women, and the rows
Of the star-gestured children in the park.
Some let me make you of the vowelled beeches,
Some of the oaken voices, from the roots
Of many a thorny shire tell you notes,
Some let me make you of the water's speeches.

Behind a pot of ferns the wagging clock
Tells me the hour's word, the neural meaning
Flies on the shafted disk, declaims the morning
And tells the windy weather in the cock.
Some let me make you of the meadow's signs;
The signal grass that tells me all I know
Breaks with the wormy winter through the eye.
Some let me tell you of the raven's sins.

Especially when the October wind
(Some let me make you of autumnal spells,
The spider-tongued, and the loud hill of Wales)
With fists of turnips punishes the land,
Some let me make you of the heartless words.
The heart is drained that, spelling in the scurry
Of chemic blood, warned of the coming fury.
By the sea's side hear the dark-vowelled birds.

The interior

Saturday, October 8, 2016


MY ELDEST SISTER, the physician, has a lovely, peaceful, rustic home in Camiguin that would be the perfect escape from the punishing wind chill if only my first line supervisor would give me four continuous leave weeks this winter. Cathay Pacific flies two of the longest nonstop flights in the world, both from NYC's JFK and Newark to Hong Kong. Then to Cebu, where Cebu Pacific has a 30-minute flight to Mambajao. I have been to Camiguin several times when I was in college, and learned that the island's elemental character never fails to hit the soul. Hibok-hibok. Katibawasan. Mantigue. Ardent. And kinilaw na bariles with tabon-tabon. This little island born of fire beats Maui and Kauai big time. Congrats, Ate Nene!


Monday, October 3, 2016

Hoppie, The Hopatcong Monster

HERE'S ONE FOR Halloween, from the August 4, 1894 issue of the Lake Hopatcong Angler. Apparently, highland lakes attract water monsters. A nice distraction from the heebie-jeebies of the November elections.

Friday, September 9, 2016

A Festival Grows In Brooklyn

ALEXIE. ATWOOD. OATES. RUSHDIE. Just some of the big names that will descend upon downtown Brooklyn during its book festival next week. It starts Monday and culminates on September 18, a Super Sunday when more than 300 authors from the US and across the globe fill fourteen stages in downtown Brooklyn and nearby venues for panels, readings, book signings, and other creative performances, rain or shine. Of course, the vendors will be there. Begun ten years ago by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz to showcase the "Brooklyn voice" in literature, the festival has grown exponentially in the last several years to become the major international literary event that it is today. Also among this year's participants are South Africa's Imraan Coovadia and Masande Ntshanga, Denmark's Dorthe Nors, Sri Lanka's Anuk Arudpragasam, NY poet laureate Yusef Komunyakaa and Pinoy Patrick Rosal. Entrance to all events is absolutely free. Check each hourly event and set your priorities. Can't make it to all, buddy. Oy vey!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Freshman Schedule

AFTER CAMP STUY, Sara finally got her schedule at Stuyvesant High School this school year, disappointed that she has to do swimming again because she thought she passed the proficiency test, but who are we newbies to question the school's policy? Freshman Composition will be in the last period. She is confident that she can manage the subway with a newfound friend from Elmhurst who's also going to Stuy. School starts on September 8. So here we go.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Brink Of The Bronx

The Hall of Fame on a cliff overlooking the Harlem River
A COOL SPOT to visit and spend some time in if you find yourself in the University Heights neighborhood of the city (maybe before a Yankee Stadium ballgame) is the Hall of Fame for Great Americans on the campus of Bronx Community College. Built in 1900 by New York University (before it was the billionaire that it is now and sold the campus to the city university in 1973 due to financial crisis), the shrine offers a panoramic view of the valley below from the Harlem River to The Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park to the New Jersey Palisades beyond. Designed by architect Stanford White and featured in the movies A Beautiful Mind and The Good Shepherd as the backdrop for scenes that were supposed to take place at MIT and Yale University respectively, the Hall of Fame is only four blocks but is a universe away from the frenzied bustle of Jerome Avenue; it obliterates all stereotypes of this borough as a lawless gangland and drug den perpetuated by movies of the '70s and '80s. In the company of 102 bronze busts of people of achievement from John Adams to Wilbur Wright, one is sure to think about and evaluate the state of affairs of his career, and it was in its quiet in the spring of 2009 where I sought enlightenment as I processed the question of whether or not to leave the academic world behind for a much higher-paying but restrictive job with the federal government. And because I know this post is going to generate tons of hits from people who enjoy reading about characters teetering on the edge of a precipice, let me play from memory what I remember of myself in this situation.

After my master in library science degree, I worked a city job on campus with the title of Assistant to Higher Education Officer, managing faculty development efforts and college board meetings as coordinator of its Center for Teaching Excellence, then directed by Jewish poet Harriet Shenkman. Coming home one afternoon, I found in the mailbox a letter from the Minneapolis Hiring Center, offering me a federal job that I had applied to years before and had forgotten about, asking me to report to a Human Resources office in Newark so that my name can be enrolled in the next class that would run for three months in a boot camp in Georgia. The letter also emphasized that I would be required to do the 1.5 mile run in 15 minutes or less, taken in two attempts, otherwise fail the academy and be literally sent home right there on the tracks. Now, I have spent all my adult life in the academic world and the federal government was terra incognitaI knew that the academic part of it would be routine, but my cardio stamina was laughable; I had been smoking for as long as I could remember, and quitting to begin a daily regimen of running would be like asking me to climb Mt. Washington in the middle of February. What if I didn't make the run? There would be no job to come back to, because the offer came in the middle of the semester and gave me no option to finish my duties until the end of the term, to be able to come back if I did not pass the academy or like the new job.

Decisions, decisions. As I was consumed by my dilemma, the Hall of Fame became the leap of faith, the brink of destruction, the precipice of doom. Should I stay or should I go, step down or turn down, resign or decline, quit or forfeit? During break periods, I would linger at the Hall of Fame hoping for an epiphany, but while the advice of the heroes (stolid like Easter Island moais looking beyond the horizon of their barren ground) were muted, the voice of our financial situation was thunderous. We had recently bought a house, and the monthly mortgage snapped up my wife's Wells Fargo salary, while mine was a poor supplement to take care of the rest of the bills. The starting salary and benefits of the job offer were great. Academics or economics? That was the question. Gotta do what I gotta do, the 1.5 mile run be damned. I had to take my chances. It's a go. That crucial afternoon I submitted my resignation, I stopped by the Hall of Fame once again and went through the rows of heroes, hoping to find one that was in the profession of customs, but never found it.

So in early May, nicotine-free, I kissed my family goodbye in Penn Station and was on Amtrak bound for Savannah, all alone and wondering if I had made the right decision as I watched the late spring trees outside morph into subtropical, the anxiety weighing me down full force like the ugly Spanish moss all around when I arrived. A van with a U.S. government license plate was waiting at the station, and the driver, a talkative officer from Long Island, delivered me and seven other rail-opting hopefuls under the porte cochere of a Marriott hotel in FLETC (called "Fletsie" by oldtimers), still an hour away in a town called Glynco in the middle of southern Georgia pinelands. A Marriott hotel in boot camp? What the f---? (Obviously, Marriott executives are well-connected to the federal government.) This was going to be a breeze, my ignorant mind told me. How wrong I was. Little did I know that the hotel would be a requisite comfort after every exhausting day of physical training and shin splints, peer pressure, asshole instructors, weekly exams on dull topics, lack of sleep, crappy food in the cafeteria, the heat, mosquitoes, anything you could think of to humiliate the academic brat in you on top of the homesickness. For ninety days.

SEVEN YEARS LATER, I am still amazed at how I survived those ninety days, and wonder if I had made the right decision. I graduated from the academy with a bling on my diploma, my proud family flying in from New York to be by my side. And oh yes, I made the 1.5 mile run in 14.34 minutes on my second attempt, thanks to the adrenaline and the potassium and the FedExed adobo and the prayers of my family (I always thought mine had no clout). But when I returned to the work unit in Newark the following week, I saw how different the new job was. Within a short period of time, I realized that whereas, in my previous job, I could express my dissent to the president of the college on any issue, in this new job you just don't jump ranks when speaking your mind and there were hierarchy protocols that must be sternly adhered to, and that the orders of my first-line supervisor were like royal decrees, no questions asked. Intellectual and academic freedom in the job was, to understate it, limited. We were instructed never to share security-compromising information on social media, including work-related photographs and personal identification, duty details, any information that may compromise the classified nature of the job. (I am even afraid as I write this post that I may have to take it down in the future.) For years, the task of writing made me sick, and even now as I recuperate, I am still blind to the boundaries of its new confines. We issue charges and penalties everyday and must build a firewall between us and the public to prevent vindictive offenders from being able to track us down. And in the wake of the recent police shootings, we are required to change into street clothes before going home to avoid being assassinated. This is a small price to pay in exchange for the bacon that I bring home every two weeks, surely a day on the beach compared to that of a recruit deployed in Iraq. And after seven years of service, I have the tenure and salary of a full professor, health and life insurance, tax-free contributions to a retirement fund, leave entitlement, and most of all, no papers to bring home and grade at the end of the day. We are able to buy a summer home in the lakes region of northwest Jersey, and save for our daughter's college fund. Did I make the right decision? I still do not know, and one of these weekends, I'd like to go back to University Heights to see if this time, I can find the answer. Until then, the response to my first-line supervisor's orders will be the same: Hooah!

Hall of Fame for Great Americans, Bronx Community College, 2155 University Avenue, Bronx, NY 10453  To schedule a tour call: Therese LeMelle (718) 289-5160 or Remo Cosentino (718) 289-5146

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Some Resources

Click to enlarge. A useful guide to finding where the boat rentals and biters are. Always keep out of private property. Download a Boating Safety Manual here. Map courtesy of  Mark Evans.

If you run into trouble: New Jersey State Police, Marine Services Bureau, Lake Hopatcong Station, 341 Espanong Road, Lake Hopatcong, NJ 07849, phone (973) 663-3400

Monday, July 25, 2016

Lake Hopatcong Summer

CHECK OUT the work of watercolorist Angelito L David (no period after the middle initial). This more venerable Jersey Pinoy lives in Elizabeth and goes to Lake Hopatcong to paint. Awesome.

Angelito L David, 209 Springfield Road, Elizabeth, NJ 07208 (908) 289-6829
"Lake Hopatcong Summer" 14.5 x 20.5" March 2010 Second Place, National Arts Program

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Tatay and Inay

I RARELY POST videos, but since today is my departed parents' 63rd wedding anniversary, I am replaying one of their favorite songs, interpreted by Cesaria Evora, "The Barefoot Diva." Born in the Cape Verde Islands, Cesaria grew up in poverty and used to sing in cruise ships before she was discovered by a Portuguese producer who invited her to record in Paris. She won the Grammy in the World Music category in 2003 for her album Voz d'Amor. Known for performing barefoot and taking breaks to drink rum and smoke while the band played an instrumental, she died in 2011 at the age of 71. Have a Happy Anniversary where you are, Tatay and Inay.

The couple standing on the right with my older siblings during my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary in Mataasnakahoy

In the 1980s, San Pedro, Laguna

Thursday, June 30, 2016


Hangover buster: fish soup $2.50
Flounder, shrimp, scallops and chips $7.50
Clams and oysters are a buck each
THE BEST THING about living in the city is that you don't have to have a bundle of cash to find good grub and feel like you're eating like a local in some faraway place. One of my favored destinations on my weekend walks from Maspeth is a hole-in-the-wall in Jackson Heights that serves fresh seafood for almost nothing. On top of their menu, for me, is the fish soup (I'm guessing whiting with broth made from scraps of all the fish they sell) with rice, diced potatoes, carrots, onions and celery that's only $2.50 a cup and is a meal in itself. They don't have ceviche, but they have fresh oysters and clams for a dollar each, and wedges of refreshing lime gratis. The owner is Korean, the crew is Jackson Heights Hispanic (maybe Colombian or Ecuadorian), the clientele is migrant Latino, and the cable channel is Telemundo. In the rear yard, an FM radio blares with the rhythm of salsa while a playful crew scales and shucks, guts and cuts, sweeps and hoses blood, scales, guts and gills down a gutter. You grab a stool by the dining counter behind a glass wall facing Roosevelt Avenue and watch Hispanic Queens go by: a cellophane-gloved gordita pares pineapples for her fruit stand; a paisano pushes his stolen shopping cart with a portable charcoal grill on it; an arrogant cop slaps traffic tickets on overstaying cars parked by the curb. The room is heavy with the smell of frying fish, and as the hangover is killed by the scalding soup, you feel like you're in a market restaurant somewhere in Lima or Veracruz or Guayaquil, no tips required. Amazing to think that in a half-hour, you will be browsing around Best Buy for electronics that are on sale. Ta bien, amigos!

Jose Fish Market, 81-04 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights, NY 11372 (718) 478-0232

Grab a stool and imagine you're in Lima

Friday, June 24, 2016

Congratulations To Sara

CONGRATULATIONS to my lovely daughter Sara for being one of I.S. 73's two valedictorians this year. You are one heck of a daughter, baby, and you deserve everything. Thank you for making us proud.