Tag Archives: The Philippines

Gary Robson Author- Two books: Peace Corps Experience in the 1980’s & his experience as Father to a Chess Prodigy

Gary Robson Author- Peace Corps (The Philippines) in the 1980’s & Father to a Chess Prodigy

I left my full time job in January to give myself the time to finish the two books that I had write. The first is about my Peace Corps experience in the 1980’s: the second is about my experience as father to this generation’s American chess prodigy. Order online at NipaHutPress.com, or send a check for $12.06 for the Peace Corps book, $19.99 for the prodigy book, or $25.74 for both books to Nipa Hut Press, 2340 Anna Ave., Clearwater, Fl 33765

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Randy Ford Author-after the first “Battle of Mendiola”

      There had been no bigger challenge to the Marcos presidency than what became known as the first “Battle of Mendiola,” but it was only a prelude.   The president had hunkered down in his palace and no doubt felt secure there; and he had thousands of soldiers ready for an onslaught of battle tested, battle-ready activists.   Those students charged the barricade of barbed wire, and the more worked up they became the wilder they were, making it easy for them to demolish the barricade.   So there was some logic to the reactions of the soldiers, but it was deadly when they opened fire.

      Momentum was also at work when a student commandeered a fire truck and rammed it into a gate at Malacanang.   Tension was everywhere.   Demonstrating and rioting could no longer be contained on the campuses.   Yet the government wouldn’t change.   It was just as corrupt.   It touched everyone.   Injustice and poverty were worsening.   It had gotten so bad that many people prayed for a benevolent dictator.   And then it became more and more evident that Marcos wasn’t that benevolent figure, as the optimism of his first term dissipated.

      Elaine, more than anyone else, wanted Nick to stay away from the battles in the streets, Elaine who had demonstrated with him and Ben on campus, and had her picture taken for the paper while “leading the rabble”.   Elaine had been one of the 50,000 that had gathered in front of the Congress building, and (while still willing to demonstrate) she had become more circumspect and less vocal, when the rock and bottle throwing started, and they burned an effigy of Ferdinand Marcos.   This time she only went to be close to her man, an organizer who had helped stage the protest.   Nick clearly had a lot to do with her involvement, and she talked herself into taking positions to align herself with him.   Had Elaine carefully considered everything?   Or had her man, for obvious reasons, and because of her love for him (perhaps she was blinded by it), unduly influenced her?   It didn’t matter, though, how it came about.   Nick seduced her, while she scored big time.   It was the violence that scared her most.

      She had last seen Nick in his office (by chance she caught him there), and not because they had planned something; he talked about the higher gas prices and the raised bus fares, and even seemed very excited about it.   But then after a very short while Nick said he had to go and that something of great importance had come up.   He began to pretend that he was in a great rush; and Elaine had to accept that.   Though when he said he had to go off campus, and she knew him well enough to catch the tinniest fib, about things that were important and semi-important, she became a little worried.   And worried and at the same time relieved that he wasn’t going to involve her.   She knew he rarely had business off campus, she couldn’t think of anything that she couldn’t be apprised of.

      She became very worried.   When she found out about the burning of the buses and the first “Battle of Mendiola,” and there was no sign of Nick afterwards, she checked the hospitals.   She said to Ted the next day, “I knew he was involved.   It was just something I knew.   You know him.   You’ve spent a lot of time with him.   You know his passion.   Now he’s disappeared, after all that, the…I have no clue.   I could’ve been there for him.   So I’ve checked the hospitals, the morgues, and other places.   Help me with another place.   You say you haven’t seen him but he’ll show up.”

     Ted said, “But if I knew where he was, should I tell you?   Nick is an adult.   He has the right to disappear, if he wants.   Where am I in this thing?   What am I doing here?”

      She said, “That’s where we both are.   To be part of this you have be totally part of it.   You’ve got to give up everything else.   You can’t wait and see what happens before you join.”   And Ted thought, from the way she was talking, that she was hedging.

      She had found Ted in the dungeons.   That she had come looking for him there floored him, because of the relevance of the place and how it tied into the battles, win or lose, on the streets.   He seemed to know a lot about the history.   He said that he had an idea for a drama that he wanted to create in the dungeons…he made it sound as if it would have something to do with the struggle on the outside…which would incorporate the use of his flag in some way.   He asked her for her help.   And then he reassure her that Nick would be all right…something she might not have paid attention to had she not wanted to believe it.   And that she should try to find Ben; yes, Ben would know something.   He said nothing else about the drama he intended to create.

      So after a few days Nick reappeared…all classes were suspended for a week, and everyone hoped that that would ease the tension.   Yet they knew they hadn’t seen the worse of it.   Nick’s good fortune was that he hadn’t been killed, and he said he decided to disappear for a while.   The only thing he didn’t want was to have the police come for him at the university.   They did that to other people.   It was something he half expected.   He went back home to allow the situation in Manila to cool down, and, as a precaution, he hadn’t told anyone, which infuriated Elaine.   He traveled to and from on the bus, but that didn’t make too much sense.   He began to think about giving up his position at the university…thinking perhaps that he had already compromised it, and on the bus he had time to think: where could he best be put to use, as a foot soldier, as a leader, or as the brains.   He even talked…and talked to his father about it…of rallying the masses in Central Luzon.   He thought long and hard about it, and he went to a HUK camp, as he said, “to risk it.”   He couldn’t help but notice the women there, and one of them could’ve enticed him to stay; they were pretty enough, though one of the reasons he came back was Elaine.   Ted said, “Given such a choice, I don’t know what I would’ve done.   A jungle bride, or Elaine…a hard choice.   Forgive me, Susan.   I’m human.”   And Nick wouldn’t get sympathy from those who hadn’t faced what he had.

       Randy Ford

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Randy Ford Author-a Philippine bride and the dream or suicide

      He searched everywhere for her.   He ran from the pier to the plaza.   He expected to find her right away and he saw three or four young women who looked like her.   He soon wore himself out and as a result became more methodical.   He, more or less, concentrated on areas within walking distance, and in and around places where they had been together.   And as he searched, the longer he searched, the more a sense of futility dogged him.   It began with a slight headache, then some tearing, and with the tearing, a little nausea.   The nausea became annoying.   And with annoyance and despair fits of anger.   He found himself snapping at everyone; the least they deserved it, the more he snapped at them; and whenever a hot lead turned cold, man, he sunk to the bottom of his lows.

      Fear and rejection can be a lethal mix.   For the first time in his life, he lost total control of himself.   As the turmoil inside him became more intense, the less he took care of himself.   He moped around.   He hated people who moped.   He didn’t bathe or shave and let his teeth go.   His job with the Peace Corp would have to wait until he found Lilly.   To Don’s surprise, he didn’t commit suicide.   There were worse forms of suicide than the actual crime.

      Three trips to Manila, back and forth by plane, distracted him a little and each time forced him to clean up.   And after it became clear that she wouldn’t magically appear he imagined all kinds of horrible things, and for most of those things, he took the blame.   He spent a huge amount of time staring out into space, and he got no response, no reply, nada.   No, no Lilly.   Asked everyone he could think of.   Asked them more than once, and most of them didn’t even know who he was talking about.   Stumped.   Couldn’t think of anyone else until he thought of his landlord.   “You keep an eye on my place, right?” he asked.   “Help me out with this please.   Let me know if someone asks for me.”   Don lowered his voice, and had to chance it, “Even if she’s a Filipina.”

      His landlord, a middle-aged woman, was kind, and had a friendly and reassuring smile, but tended to be off in her own world.   She said, “I think she came by here when you were gone.”

      What a jolt!   When?   What?   She…   Lilly.   Could it have been my Lilly?   Of course, it was Lilly.   Lilly.   And he couldn’t help but blurt out, “She’s my girlfriend.   Her name is Lilly.   We’re going to get married.”

       These phrases that came out of his mouth startled Don.   Sounded so strange to him.   His landlord said nothing, nothing meant silence, though she definitely showed interested.   She was, in fact, transported back to her own wedding, a June wedding, for her nothing but a June wedding would do.   Yes, June weddings were preferred in the Philippines.   She had kept the beaded top white wedding gown she wore until she passed it down to her oldest daughter.   She remembered how the groom had cried, as he lifted her veil.   They were tears of joy as he fulfilled a dream, his dream of a partner for life.   Don didn’t have such a dream, but by George, he’d take Lilly over any dream.   They were so different; Don and his landlord.   He couldn’t have understood…such a reaction from her, such emotion when their contact had been so minimal…all that, and without an exchange of words; the two people couldn’t have even agreed on what a wedding should look like.   She tied the knot right there in Zamboanga, at the fancy San Roque Montpellier Parish Church.   He didn’t care whether he got married by a priest or a judge.   A main celebrant and a co-celebrant conducted his landlord’s wedding.

      To Don, less was better.   But he would leave it up to Lilly.   He knew, to some extent, it would have to be traditional, or else Lilly would feel cheated.   And he assumed she was Catholic, an assumption easily made by looking at her.   Assumption, assumptions, perhaps he was assuming too much.   But first things first.

      So Lilly had come by his place.   His landlord said, “You were away on your trip.   And she didn’t stay long after she saw you were gone.   There was so little life in her.   And there was a woman with her.   I assumed it was her maid.”

      Don said, “And not her mother?”

      “No, it definitely wasn’t her mother.   She wouldn’t bring her mother.   Mothers, I know how mothers act around their daughters.   More likely she would’ve come with her father, or a brother, but not her mother.”

      Don said, “I’ve been looking for her, and all along…   During all this you and I haven’t talked, too distracted to.   Somehow we missed each other.   Lilly and me… I knew her before I moved to Zamboanga.”   A little lie here.   Sometimes a little lie hurts less than the truth.

      “She didn’t indicate that.”

      “Indicated what then?”

      Randy Ford

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Randy Ford Author-the French-Canadian Oblate of the Note Dame of Bongao

      He talked easily to the friar.   He knew that he freely could talk to him without being judged.   He got invited to lunch soon after the ship docked at Bongao…three or four hours was all the time he had while the crew unloaded and took on cargo…and he didn’t waste time by looking around.   He needed to get a few things from the market.   There he met the French-Canadian Oblate, though at the time he didn’t know an Oblate from a Jesuit.   The friar lived next to the Notre Dame of Bongao and zealously taught Muslim students and in so doing facilitated the growth of Islam.   He was a very busy friar, teaching and planning his lessons, and furthering his mission of promoting literacy throughout the archipelago.   He would be a good source for Don and would certainly know how safe the islands were.

       You couldn’t help but be impressed by the friar.   He was rotund and obviously enjoyed life.   Don sat through a funny lunch filled with quips about people from Canada who “thought a warmer climate would lead to laziness.”   The poor people the friar served were far from lazy and were great lovers of the sea.   That was where most of them lived and died.   And they talked about how the sea could be very rough at times.   But the conversation began and ended warmly, and the friar began with, “You have to forgive them, for they know not what they do.”   The first time he said it Don didn’t understand what he meant.   The second time, he said, “You mean the Moros.”   Don had planned to bring the subject up but hadn’t expected an opening so soon.   When the food arrived the friar said, “There’s no need to be afraid.   But fear is sometimes useful.”

      The friar asked Don about himself and Don told him about the Peace Corps.

      The friar said, “Ah, the Peace Corps.”

      Don asked, “Is there something wrong with the Peace Corps?”

      The friar said, “No, no, no.   There used to be one here.   A beautiful woman.   And if you ask me, a little too beautiful for here, and that’s with the acknowledgement that women here are the most beautiful in world.   Do I surprise you?”

      “No, no, no.”

     They became instant friends.   The house was large and built to Western specs.   The friar’s manners and manner were also Western, and he also spoke perfect English.   Perfect English now seemed foreign to Don, though he appreciated hearing English without the formality that he had grown used to and English mixed with the vernacular, whatever that might be.   There were over eighty-seven different dialects.   So Don felt very much at ease.

      He saw a very human friar.   This surprised him.   The friar said, when Don asked, “I love food.   I eat too much.   Food and tropical heat don’t mix.   I should’ve learned that a long time ago.”

      They talked about many things.   The lunch took up all the time Don had: he particularly liked the things made from sweet and sticky rice.   Some of the time Don talked business and asked about the beautiful volunteer who the friar thought was too beautiful for her own good: Don got around to his objection to placing white women in Sitangkia.   Some of the time he spent talking about his life in Zamboanga and how he liked the Spanish atmosphere, the smell of the flowers in the plaza, and even the smell of copra as it aged in warehouses near the harbor.   Don, explaining his situation, said, “I have a little problem.   Something concerning a Filipina I like.   I think the best thing is to forget her.”   Don was trying to minimize his feelings, explaining as few of the details as possible, but the friar wasn’t buying it, but he didn’t push or pry.   And with the same intensity as when he ached for Lilly and wanted sex with her, there came the idea that he wouldn’t throw her aside, so, suddenly, from his conversation with the friar, Don knew what he had to do, and there came to him deep and true feelings for Lilly and the idea that he would marry her, though he knew she would have to be willing to give him a second chance.

      The friar’s answer was simply, “Well, I can see that was intense.   Like you’d been lost at sea and you found the North Star.”   Then in a normal voice, “Basug, ca ba?   Are you satisfied?”

      Don thought about his bedroom where he had taken Lilly.   She had seemed comfortable there.   He remembered her face, and the frightened look she had afterwards, right after the sex, the rape, still in quiet shock (with silent rage, perhaps) and his going out of his way to apologize.   She looked so beautiful.   He saw how he hurt her and how beautiful she was.   In the friar’s company he saw it as if it had just happened.

      The friar said, “I don’t need to know what this was all about.   It’s your business.   And I think it should remain that.   But I assume it’s up to her.”

      Don connected with the friar in a way that amazed him.   He had felt embarrassed and now the embarrassment was gone.   He said, “I hurt her.”   It wasn’t pretty.   The idea hurt him, and there wasn’t anything he could do about, and it had occurred to him before that he had to fix it, but now things had changed, changed so much, that he knew he had to do more than that.

      The friar nodded.

      Don asked, “Can I tell you something?

      “You don’t have to.”

      Randy Ford  

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Randy Ford Author-dating a Filipina, or this may work out with her

      When they last saw Don, Susan asked, “Where are they (the Peace Corps) sending you?”

      “I don’t know.   I’m floating around now, helping out where I can.   Most recently I was up in Aparri (at the tip of Luzon).   They don’t want me to get too attached to one place I guess.

      Later they sent Don to Zamboanga on Mindanao; and it looked as if he would stay there for a while.   He was to establish something but was put off by the idea of being stuck with an office.   The Moros were threatening again, with crossed swords, so it was hard to know if a particular place was safe.   He had to visit each volunteer and use his judgement as to whether they should be pulled out or not.   He had been to Zamboanga many times as a volunteer when he had been assigned to Davao as a science teacher.   That was for recreation.   This time it became messier.   He never intended to get involved with a Philippine woman romantically.   The casual, quick tryst with a prostitute…not something he would do in a city where he knew anyone…was far from being out of the question.   So he made it a policy to keep his distance from Filipinas by shutting down his libido.

      The next time Ted heard from him he was in trouble.

      Don said, “You have to be smart.   But who’s kidding who here.   I wasn’t smart enough.   Don’t criticize when you haven’t been there.   You’re not single so you don’t know how hard it was.   The trouble was: this was not in the manual.   Volunteers, in my case staff, are left out there alone and don’t see how they’re vulnerable.”

      “You obviously handled it before.   For two years and you extended.”

      “Yeah, I made it, but this time…I don’t know what happened.   Sex was the culprit.   To understand you’ve got to do your duty as a priest for while.”

      “Was it that bad?”

      “Worse.   Ask me.”

      Don couldn’t tell Ted what he’d done.   He couldn’t tell anyone connected with the Peace Corps, or at least until he fixed it.   Don trusted no one, and he stayed away from Manila as much as he could.   He came in only when he had to.   And on one of those trips he said to Ted, “Now I know what hell is like.   All because I couldn’t stop.   What did St. Paul say about that?”

      Ted looked at Don and asked, “Are you in that much trouble?”

      Don responded with a simple “yes.”

      If Ted had known St. Paul, he would’ve grasped the significance of what Don said.   In fact, Don’s reference to St. Paul and his letters in the Bible revealed his heart and soul.   But that hardly meant that he was perfect.   It showed more that he was human.   The trouble was, from a Christian perspective, and then the Peace Corps, and then to the Filipino, he had broken the law.   It was still a secret and hopefully would remain one; but there was the young woman’s family…both parents and siblings, with a tradition totally different from his, a concept of shame and retribution that often continued for generations, and with people running amuck and feuding violently, ready to settle scores with knives and guns or with whatever it took.   The woman and he had met innocently enough.   It was a chance encounter at a patio bar and restaurant connected to a hotel.   You could sit there at a table, order a meal, and stick a toe in the Sulu Sea.

      The fact that she had gone there without a chaperon shouldn’t have given Don a license for his conduct.   They shouldn’t have had a good time together, or why shouldn’t they have?  Yes, she was a Filipina, and he was an American with the Peace Corps.   That was how he got to the edge of a cliff, but explain how he fell off of it.

      There was no one more frightened than Don.   He was jolly and talkative and well mannered.   He was a Caucasian, and looked wealthy.   He told her he frequently ate there, which only reinforced her image of him.   Therefore she could’ve been forgiven for taking him for an American businessman, much like the fisherman from Texas that Ted met at the American Embassy (who incredibly based himself out of Basilian, an island Don could almost see from there).   The first question that came to Don was “what is she doing here alone.”   She could’ve been staying at the hotel and was one of those modern women who occasionally out of necessity travel alone.   He would then impress her less then.   Anywho, he invited her to join him.   That was how it all began.

      He asked her first thing, as if he had forgotten he was in the Philippines, “If you were going to have dinner here and had a choice, would you prefer having it with me or alone?”   The young woman without hesitation said, “With you.”   Don should’ve backed off right then.   “The food here is good.   Your choice, on me.”

      During a torchlight dinner they threw coins in the water so that they could watch boys dive for them.   They were warming up to each other, or were already warm, and he wanted sex so badly that he couldn’t see straight.   Don didn’t have a room in the hotel (he then lived there in Zamboanga) but did she have one?   He listened to her intently in an attempt to find out.   Very little of what was said, however, gave him a clue.   There was a lot about the view of the sea, the reflection of the sunset and a prau here and there with brightly colored sails, reds and blues: all of this enhanced the mood.   And when at the end of the meal he asked her for an opinion she said, “I wanted to meet someone like you, but my mother always warned me against it.”   Don knew then.   His head bobbed, he showed this great smile, and he almost fell out of his chair.

      “I don’t know your name.   I should’ve asked for your name first thing and we should’ve introduced ourselves.   Shall we go for a little stroll, in the moonlight, toward the fort?”   Getting up out of the chair he almost knocked it over, the closest he came to feeling clumsy.   But it would take more time for much more to happen.   He said, “I’m not good at this.   It’s this game we’re playing.   I hate it.   I feel it’s not honest.   And it’s too direct for you.   Forget it.   This won’t work.   Not in a million years.   Your culture calls for one thing.   Mine?   Well, mine calls for us to fuck.   Forgive me.   Please forgive me.   I’m shocked by my own crudeness.   You don’t understand me, do you?   You need to scram.   No hard feelings, okay?”   From there, they walked to the city plaza and sat on an iron bench.   They couldn’t get close there, so he said, “You’re still here.   When I said what I said I a while ago I thought that would mean adios.   You should’ve left me.   But I see you haven’t.   I’ll show you where I live.   Yes, I live near here.   And I come down here often.”   She still didn’t run away.   Now whenever he went to the plaza he looked for her knowing she knew he frequently went there.   Other times she met him for dinner, and under torchlight, they’d eat, eat and put up with boys who treaded water while begging for coins.   “Sorry boys, no more coins.   You’re wrong.   I’m not loaded,” and Don thought, “Against all odds, this may, this may work out with her.”

Randy Ford

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Randy Ford Author-sensibility and Philippine acting

      In an intense way Alfred tried to absorb as much acting and directing as he could.   And there at the Royal Theater in Fort Santiago he got the opportunity to watch movie stars from old Tagalong films: the great, famous stars of the big screen then demonstrating live that they were as good as their fans thought they were.   One of those stars was Lolita Rodriquez.

      He asked Lolita, as they sat together on the edge of the stage, “How did you get started in the movies?”

      “When I was a little, my parents used to take me to the movies.   But they can’t be blamed for this.”

      Alfred thought, “She’s so simple.   That can’t be taught.   While other actors are stiff and mechanical.   She doesn’t rely on tears.   So many others would writhe in agony and fall on their knees.”

      Until then Alfred had never had contact with famous movie stars, and now he worked with them, and they ate and relaxed together.   When Alfred was in his director’s mode, he would block each scene in his head, soothing each ego in such a way as to get the most out of them.   And from that Alfred could see that he would one day become the Steven Spielberg of the Philippines.

      Alfred loved Lolita.   He always tried to look his best around her.   He always tried to change his shirt and polish his shoes, when otherwise he wouldn’t care.   Alfred normally knew how to please women and what to say and when to say nothing, but with Lolita…with her he didn’t seem to know when a compliment was one compliment too many.   Costumes seemed to compliment her more than Alfred ever could; he saw that and learned from it.

      Around the theater Ted had been very careful with what he said about what was going on at the University of the Philippines.   At Fort Santiago they were too busy to think about politics, though many of their plays were political.   Most of that, because of the language, Ted missed.   That forced him to pay more attention to the acting and how he would direct.   He felt his theatrical sensibility was superior but soon realized that his perception had more to do with taste than anything else.

      Ted knew nothing about the acting tradition of the Philippines.   He had been critical of it…since it seemed over-dramatic to him…he had to keep his opinions to himself.   He wouldn’t get his chance to direct immediately.   Every chance he got he would talk to Alfred, but he had to learn to avoid personal shit and not make those missteps he made early on.   He had said something about his father that wasn’t all that flattering.   He didn’t think of himself as being insensitive; it just came out and led them somewhere they didn’t want to go.   Ted used to wonder about his theater taste as compared to the taste of his Philippine cohorts.   “To shudder as he heard the ax blows” seemed too much to him (and in that case as much in the writing as the acting, and their love for sobbing).   There was no foundation for his criticism.   But he could see why Alfred loved Lolita, loved her more than the others.   And that was after Ted realized that he had been wrong about it all.

Randy Ford

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Randy Ford Author-Not what you would expect and untypically frank

      And just as at Mr. Araya’s school the name Marcos had brought about a miracle, the influence and power of the same name changed the landscape of Fort Santiago.   Emelda Marcos took a keen interest in the project, as she would in all the arts.   It was just one of many projects, as she completed a project here and another there.   She got in the newspapers all the time for it, and her favorite columnist, DeRoy Valencia, her go-to man, saw to it.   He was the one who chased the thieves and squatters out of the Luneta, and he sanitized the restrooms and beautified the park.

      It occurred to Sonja after she returned to Manila after receiving her Master’s Degree in Texas that she would go to Mr. Valencia with her idea of a theater in Fort Santiago.   She began at his office, and her assertiveness challenged him.   The fact that she could unroll a detailed schematic of what she had in mind didn’t hurt her case.   They would have to adapt certain things to fit the available space (the walls of the ruin couldn’t be altered).   She kept after him.   Didn’t have a chance to turn her down.   So using Emelda’s love for the arts and the theater as a strategy, she began to convince him.   It wasn’t a hard sale.   He could tell from the beginning that she wouldn’t let him down.   He had met his match.

      Sonja’s confidence and energy began to draw drama people to her.   One of them was Alfred Bruno.   Alfred’s father was married to two women at the same time and was never directly involved in the raising of Alfred.   Ted and Alfred, both sensitive, both with severe familial issues, had been friendly with each other from the beginning, and that friendship continued up until Ted left.   Alfred, explaining why he didn’t respect his father, said, “I could never go to his home.”   And Ted, his lips clinched, felt a connection.   Their background was sort of similar; it was and it wasn’t.   Alfred wrinkled his brow, and said, “I would rather have been a bastard.”   Ted didn’t quite get that.   He understood the pain, though.   He knew what it meant to be considered an oddball by his own father.   He was a rebel but not totally one.   He was born into an intact family, and it remained one.   “My father wanted me to grow up to be just like him, and, if I did, I wouldn’t be here.”

      Alfred had to ask, “Where would you be?”

      “My father was a U.S. Marine.”

      “I know Marines.   I see them around all the time.   Some come from Cavite.”

      Ted was thus reminded of Elaine.   “I should’ve guessed.”

      “Why should you have?”

      Randy Ford

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