Tata Dinong passed his first summer in Los Angeles tending the plants in the second floor veranda of the building where he lived. He spent his second and third winters outside his window listening, counting ambulances zooming down Temple Street. He frequently mentioned how the siren's flashing lights were the only kind of red his eyes allowed him to see. His eyes showed him the rest of the world a poor shade of gray and white.
I live in a bachelor apartment with 4 other old-timers like me. We avoid talking too much because the neighbor to our right is the brother of the apartment owner and if they knew how many bodies slept in this area of how many square feet? This $250 room is gone and it will leave us five old boys scrambling to find another cheap space.
Nights back from work were done in pantomime, fashioning a carefully mumbled nocturnal language only the 5 of them understood. They have evaded detection and have lived in the same building for ten years.
Sunday mornings are spent in run-down fast food joints in downtown LA along with other men reminiscing about the second war and musical Glen Miller evenings and Artie Shaw afternoons after days of heavy mortar attack. Malinta Tunnel, the Hayakawa Detachment, Mariveles Harbor, Camp O'Donnell names of something that was fought a long time ago. Someone brought a book he found in a Goodwill thrift shop sharing it with the other men. This book only mentioned General MacArthur, Wainright and how American soldiers always "held their line" during heavy artillery attack. All of them huddled in formica chairs with 49 cent muffins and 39 cent coffees on top of formica tables, he railed about how the battle in Corregidor were also fought by the men sitting with him. He made an oath to write a book of his own.
Conversations last Fall were about the latest tips on how to avoid the morning rush in the county clinics, which nurses to flirt with to get a free flu shot on the side. SSI appeals and the best way to ask for more, recommendations like Crescent Church giving away free clothes, Hiyas market, the best place to get the best bangus and kamatis, SmileBrite, by Rampart and Temple taking patients with no dental insurance. Cheap, cheaper, cheapest. Grocery cents off coupons never used from the Sunday paper stack up and prop the corner burner stove to make it stand even.
Tata Dinong and the other four men had a mission last month. Government checks were pooled along with savings scraped from part-time jobs as security guards in museums or perhaps doormen in the various upscale residential hotels on the Westside. With the collection added up, the conversion rate from dollars to pesos presented itself a way to pay for a wife's goiter operation in Zamboanga or maybe books and uniforms for a grandchild in the Barangay Diso primary school and in return, pictures sent from home fill an entire wall.
© Irene Suico Soriano