She Might Be Batman- random recollections From DIY projects with Ms. B

Sometimes are travels take us a very short distance, but far enough to “cleanse our pallets” of daily life and the daily routine. I had for many years before our situations changed, a very good friend who lived just outside of Boston. She owned an older building with a first and second floor apartment, and basement right out of your favorite horror movie. She had taken on the task of slowly refinishing both apartments, and the building in general, between working the crazy amount of hours she scheduled for herself each week. For a decade or so I would get the privilege of being able to help with a variety of projects as they came up, planned around her meager time off work.  One of the first I remember was breaking old tile from the basement floor as part of a plan that never came to fruition to turn the basement into living space. A steel wrecking bar was the tool of choice to break and scrape loose the old tile, and part of the reward for my effort was an ice-cold alcoholic beverage, custom blended, with a mild and enjoyable taste that went down easy during the tile demolition progressed. The drink was mild in taste only, however, and was intended for a much slower consumption. A little marijuana smoked from a cinnamon stick (something I don’t normally partake of) as a top off, and I spent a long time after the floor was done sitting at the kitchen table looking at the digital clock on the microwave, wondering at how it always seemed to be 1:38, no matter how much time went by. Sometime later as I regained some of my senses, I realized the microwave had been stopped with one minute and thirty-eight seconds left on the timer, and it was in fact just after 4 AM. In the end, a good dinner (breakfast?) and some coffee got me back on an even keel, and I left to drive home just before the sun came up, like a proper vampire.

For the purposes of the story here l will call my friend Ms. B, as she has always valued her privacy, and I think it is highly possible as well that she may, or may not be, Batman.

Over the years I enjoyed the being part of her projects. Good food, conversation and ideas where always a key part of the experience. Ms. B is an extremely intelligent individual, as well as an excellent cook, student of life, and someone who knows where to find a good cheeseburger at two o’clock in the morning. A pretty impressive resume’ for any individual. She has a love of good food, from Asian style frozen yogurt to Korean barbeque to vegan doughnuts. A strikingly beautiful woman, she can dress up to impress any crowd or room, but is equally at home in sweat pants and a construction respirator. My own mental argument against the possible aforementioned secret identity focuses wholly on my estimation of the Bat suit’s inability to hide some of the more prominent features of her figure, but I guess with batman, all things may be possible.

When Irene’s pregnancy first came out, I sent Ms. B a picture by text showing her belly, and we followed up with a phone conversation. She was incredulous. We had often chatted about the challenges of a long-distance relationship, and her feeling regarding the latest development was summed up pretty much in her thought for Irene “you had one job, only one thing to do. Just don’t get pregnant…!”.

I think her words where still in my head a week later when we were shopping and Irene asked me what her Christmas gift would be that year. “Condoms” was my immediate answer.

One day, while working on caulking and repairs in the second-floor bathroom, we discussed relationships and age differences. A fifty-something acquaintance had complained to her about the quality and age of the women who were trying to contact him through his ad on the “Plenty of Fish” dating site. He was apparently being relentlessly pursued by women his own age, despite his ad preference stating he was looking for someone younger. He had his own reasons for feeling he rated pursuit from a younger group of suitors, but it brought up some interesting questions about age and dating. Ms. B postulated, considering especially that certain races seemed less likely to show their age, that dating a woman with similar life experiences, and from a similar slice of history, must be a better situation than dating someone younger with less in common. Her question to me was:

 “If you had a choice, wouldn’t you rather have a woman who was closer to your age and experiences, and had more in common…? The two women look completely identical in all other ways, but one has the same age and life experience”. 

I focused on my baser instincts, and my age, and went with a simple proposition in reply.

“Well, Ms. B” I began thoughtfully, “when I am buying a car, I always look for the one with the lowest mileage. I guess it would be the same thing”

“Those cars don’t want you in them, either” was her immediate response. Ouch.

Painful but pretty funny. For the real matter of it all, I saw her point completely, it made a lot more sense to be with a person who shared the same background in life, similar to your own personal experiences. Kind of a “no-brainer”, but I guess if it was easy, and people where rational, Plenty of Fish and similar sites wouldn’t have so many members.

On another occasion I helped with a painting project which used different layers of randomly applied blotches in varying shades of light colors. A plastic bag was the tool to dip and blotch the walls in a random technique, one layer on top of the other. The important bit in doing this with a successful result was to constantly rotate the bag and place the paint randomly, without a pattern. Organization has never been a strong point, so random worked well for me. I felt I was excelling at pattern-less random applications, but Ms. B stopped me on several occasions to point out patterns she was seeing in my work. I was less sure of this myself, but it was her wall and her vision. One night, starting the same technique on a different wall, I had not been at it too long when Ms. B stopped me to point out the pattern she was seeing. To my great delight, I realized the pattern she was seeing was a spot I hadn’t got to yet. It was her own handiwork from the previous night. I smiled to myself, a small random victory for my own random abilities. In the end, the painting did look awesome when completed, and her vision was a success. Watching the small details in the process is often essential in this type of work if you want to have the correct result in the end. I was happy to be part of it turning out well, even with my randomness being questioned.

When I was diving in Nova Scotia, back in my treasure hunting days, I was the king of random. My search patterns meandered all across the bottom of the ocean. Captain Carr, on viewing my erratic movements from the surface remarked simply, “Random is a search pattern”.  I guess in both treasure hunting and painting random can achieve good results.

On another night, while sanding the downstairs Living room floor we discussed a gentleman she had met that was well off financially, and advocated renting instead of owning a property.  His thought was, why invest heavily in a property that also becomes an anchor. The money saved on not paying rent goes into taxes, a mortgage, repairs and upkeep, and the financial commitment prevents one from moving easily if they decided they wanted to experience life in a different environment. His thoughts tied in with those of many people I have recently heard discussing a minimalist life style where owning less is the goal. Having less “stuff” gives one more freedom to move and explore rather be tied down by the obligation of many larger possessions. The less you own (and spend to own) the more freedom you have to see the world, and gain experiences that become life-long memories. In his excellent online course, “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior” Dr. Dan Ariely talks about the value of experience as an investment, pointing out that the latest electronic gadget is usually obsolete fairly quickly, and the enjoyment of making that purchase is fleeting and quickly forgotten, while similar money invested in a vacation or travel yields a lifetime of memories long after that latest sound system or device is forgotten. There is of course an irony to discussing this while investing heavy amounts of time and money into an older “anchor” of a building, but it is always good to have flexibility in your thinking, and anchors can always be shed, or cut away.

Now, Ms. B made no secrets about the fact that the old building she owned was also very haunted. The fact that a person with a scientific background, logical mind, and high degree of intelligence could have such a strong conviction of ghosts made traveling alone to the basement a less and less appealing situation with every trip. One project tackled involved putting in a laminate wood flooring in a second-floor bedroom. Each row required at least one cut be made in the flooring. In order to keep the sawdust off of all the new work in the apartment, the chop saw was set up in the basement. Each cut meant walking down the steep internal staircase to the basement, making an (hopefully) accurate cut, and then returning to the second floor to fit the board. At this time I was pretty beat up by an arthritic left hip that didn’t fare well with a lot of up and down stairs. Still, up and down I went, refusing to be slowed by arthritis pain or imagined spirits. That moment when the trigger pull screamed the saw into life, and then the seconds when the blade spun out and the noise faded, where particularly haunting. In my thinking, If I was a ghost and was going to materialize and scare the hell out of someone, I’m doing it in those seconds of noise, and take advantage of the fixed focus and compromised hearing. At least if ghosts have those sort of thought processes.

I never actual saw a ghost over the many years and projects we completed, but it certainly felt like a haunted building. Maybe it was the age of the original building, that went back to the 1800’s, and the fact that our different projects often peeled away layers of time to expose the history of what had been. It is not hard to let your imagination wander to the people, families, and other long-gone residents that may have called the building home over the decades.

Escaping the cape for good food, good conversation, and a variety of DIY construction adventures probably helped keep me sane over a number of years, as much as my travel and diving. Things change between people, even without the stress of being in “a relationship”, situations change, and projects are completed. Even good friends often do move on from our lives, and you never are really certain what the other person is dealing with in health, school, love, work, or maybe possibly even being Batman.

The Water Baby – No Relationship Is Perfect

The Water Baby, January 2018

In 2016 I arrived back in Subic Bay in Late November to a much chubbier girlfriend. chubby in that certain way that makes you think that the cause was not excess calories, but another vice. There is a certain inherent danger in making an assumptive remark about a person’s potential pregnancy when it may turn out they have really just been gaining a bit of extra girth. It took about a day and a half for the truth to come out. We sat on the bed at “By The Sea Resort” and she cried and showed me the pills she had been given to terminate the pregnancy. I went online and did some research. The where an ulcer medication that listed potential for miscarriage as a side effect. She had been given specific instructions as to how to use the pills to end the pregnancy. Take two, insert one, Irene cried, told me she was drunk, only one time, after a party. I didn’t really believe this, but ok. I took the pills from her and flushed them down the toilet in the CR. She told me her cycle was always crazy, so she wasn’t sure if she was pregnant when she first didn’t get her menstruation, and then how much she worried once she realized she was. I asked her if she had been going for check-ups, and she hadn’t. We talked a little and I gave her 1000 peso for the doctor and left to go diving.

Not Rice….!

Four hours and two dives later I was rinsing gear outside the Arizona Dive shop when she rolled up in a trike carrying an ultrasound and a prescription for vitamins. Mike, the excellent Irish dive guide at Arizona, patted her on the belly and remarked she “must be eating a lot of extra rice!” Mike is an excellent guide and diver, and considerably more fearless then I am when confronting potentially pregnant women. Life goes on. There are a lot of imperfect relationships and situations in the world, and this was not a foundation you would choose as a starting point for a bright future, but life is not perfect.

In 2014, a year after we had first met, I returned to the Philippines and Irene and the family greeted me at the airport. Ivy Joy, Irene’s only child, was 7 years old at the time. We had spoken on the phone and on Skype often during the previous year. She took my hand and walked me to the waiting taxi. Since that day, wherever we go, my daughter and I hold hands. She has become the most important person in my world. Years later, watching Irene holding the ultrasound and the vitamins, I was not considering as much the how we got here, but where too next? I guess an appropriate shipwreck analogy would be, once you are in the water and she ship is gone, it is no longer time to worry about how to repair the leak. You’re moving forward, swimming, or you drown. Long distance relationships are pretty challenging from the beginning. I benefit from a business that keeps me on my toes most of my waking hours from March until November, without a lot of time for anything else. It is a non-traditional formula that works for me, 7 days a week from the end of March until mid-November, then diving and spending my time here. I was never foolish enough to think it was a good arrangement for a family situation, but it is what I have been committed to. The other option would be to walk away.

Almost two years later and I am waking up Saturday morning to Lyka Rose’s happy noises as she bounces on the bed. Friday was the “Jolly Joker”, our big night out, and I am tired and sightly hung over. It is just after 7 AM and Irene is in full igloo mode, wrapped in covers, hiding and hibernating in her corner of the mattress. Lyka pulls the blankets off my feet. She is awake and ready for the day, regardless of the rest of the family. She slides off the bed, and retrieves my shorts from the floor where I discarded them not so many hours ago. I’m impressed. Not quite 2 years old, this is a smart little girl. Previous mornings I had made her wait for me while I got my own shorts before I opened the bedroom door and let her lead me out into the apartment. I pull on my shorts and she takes my hand and guides me to my office chair sitting near the bed, pointing to the seat and raising her arms to be lifted. I put her on the chair and push it towards the door, and for the first 30 minutes of my day wheel her slowly in circles around the kitchen. The rest of the household is concious, if not awake and active, and Lyka enjoys the views as we repeat a very small path around the almost sleeping faces in our very small apartment.

The Water Baby

Biologically, Lyka Rose is not my daughter, but sometimes I think their are larger powers at play. She is, beyond any doubt, a water baby. She loves baths, and screams and cries when they are over. She revels in the cool water, splashing and laughing, and she has know how to turn on the water tap in the laundry area since she could walk. When I first arrived in Subic this year we checked into the Palm Tree Resort to be next to the dive shop and so Ivy Joy and her cousins could swim and enjoy the beach. The first morning we ate breakfast at the hotel’s second floor restaurant. Lyka started as usual, not sitting still, walking around the table. She came to me and grabbed my finger, pulling me. I followed as she lead me across the restaurant, then down the stairway which led to the ground floor. Once down stairs, she pulled me right to the pool where she immediately tried to get in. I let her splash her feet on the top landing, and finally had to carry her back to the resturaunt against her will. Irene was not amused with the slightly soggy baby, but in my heart I was thrilled. During our stay at the Palm Tree Lyka would delight in every second in the pool until shivering and blue lipped, Irene would bundle her into a towel as she shrieked and screamed to go back in the water. Later in the trip we visited a pool near us in the Subic Freeport zone. The kiddie area was a very safe 10″ deep shallow pond with gentle water jets. Lyka spent most of the time in the kiddie area pointing to the adjoining big pool, and trying to escape into the deeper water, or trying to climb the stairs to the small kids water slide that was built into the fake rock island rising above the shallow pool. It was a short, gentle slide that ended in the deeper pool. When we first arrived, I had quickly relented and carried her up to the top of the slide, placing her on my lap before slipping down. In hindsight, the slide was a little quicker than I expected ,and I should have maybe taken a slower approach, but we slid into the big pool, ducking under for a fraction of a second before popping back to the surface to hear Irene shrieking. Lyka paused for just a moment after as I held her and Irene directed us back to the kiddie area. I was nervous she was startled by the sudden dunk, but once back in the shallow area she intermediately began pointing to the bigger slide on the other side of the pool, ready for the next splash.

When I was a child, I often found my way into the water, even when I was not supposed to. Now I watch Lyka Rose always on the lookout for her next opportunity to swim or splash, and just running her hands under the water in the sink for her is pure bliss. We may not share biology, but it does seems to me larger forces may be involved, and a larger kinship binds us. We are both water babies.

Babies and camera Gear

Learning from mistakes is essential, but if possible, learning from other peoples mistakes is considerably more convenient and less painful. here is an overview of one of the hiccups I had during my dive trip to Subic Bay in 2018. My 2017 trip featured a bit of drama in the form of an unexpected pregnancy, and now in 2018, that unexpected pregnancy was now a very expected living, breathing, crying little human being. I have never traveled with a baby before (excepting when I was one) and I had always traveled with a fairly simple UW Camera set-up. That all changed in November 2018.

I arrived in the Philippines having just purchased and received my new underwater camera set-up, a digital SLR and housing. This was a somewhat rash purchase of a camera and housing I had been wanting for several years, ordered and received just a week prior to my departure. It is significantly larger and more complicated then my previous Canon S95 and Ikelite housing. I had been hoping to upgrade for a while, and then I saw this gently used package available on Reef Photo’s website. Reef is an excellent resource for both camera equipment and knowledge, and a business I have come to trust. Making a large complicated purchase in a rushed situation is usually a very bad idea, but I had been researching digital SLR’s and housings for a while, and this was pretty much exactly what I had hoped to buy, and the used price made it about half of the cost of the same system purchased new. One oversight I made was that the housing did not have a leak alarm system, but the folks at Reef Photo took the initiative and installed one before shipping. The salesperson told me they did this after the fact, charging me at their cost on the system, but reasoning correctly I would need it and in my hurry to get the package ordered and shipped it was overlooked. I was grateful for their doing this. The alarm is a vacuum system in which the air is pulled out of the housing through a one way valve. When a certain internal pressure is reached, a light on the case turns green, and you are ready to dive. As long as the light is green, the pressure is constant, and the case, and your camera, are safe and dry. If the light begins to change color and flash, the pressure is changing, indicating a leak, and time to surface while the case is still dry. There is a simple cap that screws into place on top of the vaccum valve once it is sealed to protect the port.

Babies also come with an extensive amount of accessories that usually require an extra bag or two to transport. Checking into the Arizona Resort towards the end of my trip,we had all my camera gear, all of Lyka’s baby gear, as well as clothes and accessories for the rest of our group, including Irene, Ivy Joy, Joann, Grechel Ann, and myself. After a few days at Arizona, we got ready to move down the street and try out a new place, the Palm Tree, as well as diving with a new shop, Mangos.

I pack my camera gear and dive accessories, Irene packs up the baby gear and clothes. We move about a mile up the National Highway to the Palm Tree, and reverse the whole proccess. At some point while I work on setting up my camera and equipment I realize the cap that is the final part of the vacuum lock is missing. This is not the first time this has happened. We spent an hour looking for it on a previous occasion staying at Arizona. Irene finally found it it, resting somehow on top of one of the containers for Lyka Rose’s milk. This time, bags are emptied, pockets are checked and re-checked. I act like an ass, opening and re-opening bags, menatlly kicking myself for letting this happen a second time. When the proverbial dust settles, we have searched everywhere twice with no success. Irene takes a trike down the street to check at Arizona, but the room is occupied and nothing has been found or turned in.

I reach out by e-mail to find a replacement, and to see if it is possible to dive without it. There is no cap available in the area, and diving without is possible, but not recommended. The next day I dive with my old Canon S95/ Ikelite housing combination and shoot video. On the second dive, the housing flooded and the camera. bad news, but one of the benefits of buying a camera like the S95. They are easy to replace, and I already have a used S95 at home as a backup.
Earlier in the week Ken at Mangos Dive shop had been telling me about a local guy with a machine shop who did amazing work fabricating parts for the dive boat. This seemed like it would be worth a try. With the help of Google maps we found the shop (The street view image was identical, including the jeep parked in front). He had me bring him the housing, and by the next morning he had machined a stainless steel replacement cap. He made one small adjustment when I picked it up and I thought it was a bit too snug on the threads when I was trying to tighten it. It felt perfect afterwards. With the trip nearing an end, I only made a couple of dives after it was created, but it served it’s purpose, and the stainless cap added to my UW Photo experience with a few important lessons. The first, that babies and camera gear are a dangerous mix, and require a higher level of organization. The second lesson, reinforcing the words of my summer biology instructor from so long ago, always trust your native guide. The local machine shop was as good as advertised, and their custom cap now has a place of honor in my collection of dive accessories. the last lesson is that new equipment is going to be, of course, a learning process.Not only in set up and settings, but in maintenance and routine. Part of my new routine with this set-up is to replace the cap for the vacuum system as soon as I am done with the valve. I also bought a back-up for my spares kit, just in case.

Ivy Joy The Rock Star

I wise biologist once told me, “Always trust your native guide”. He told me this, however, at a time when I was powerless to act on his example of wearing a wetsuit because A) I was 13 and didn’t own a wetsuit. B) I was not told the day before I might be going into water cold enough to need a wetsuit, and C) The subject hadn’t even come up until he started putting his on at the beach. My native guide, at present, is instructor and dive guide James Simms of the Arizona Dive shop, Subic Bay. We are sitting and relaxing at Cheap Charlie’s Bar enjoying the company of fellow divers and basking in the afterglow of many good days underwater. The weather has been an ideal combination of sunny days and calm, perfect for being on, or under, the water. My daughter has been asking me for several days now about coming out on the boat for the day while we dive, and I have arranged for her to join us tomorrow.

James makes a very astute observation when I tell him this is planned. He suggests Ivy Joy wait until the day after when we will be diving from is the shop’s bigger boat, Trident 1, instead of the narrow, traditional style Philippine Banka boat, Trident 2. The Banka style has wide  outriggers set on either side of a slim, canoe-like hull. It is a stable boat to dive from, but the long narrow  design makes it a little short on space and harder to move around in. Jame’s recommendation makes good sense, but Ivy Joy has already been told about the trip, and she has reminded me at every opportunity today, “Dad, we going out with you tomorrow, me an Nicel!”.

The next morning the girls are up early, dressed in jeans and collared shirts that may be better suited for the mall than the Banka, but excited for the day. We travel by trike to the Arizona Resort and head to the beach to board Trident 2. The first thing we notice as we push off from the shallows is the breeze. As the Banka attempts to maneuver past the line of floats marking the swimming area, and we are being pushed by a lively breeze that was non-existent  my first week here.

We start the short trip to our first dive site, the wreck of a Douglas Skyraider aircraft in 118’ of water. The ride is bouncy with the breeze stronger away from the beach. As we arrive at the site and slow down, the Banka is rolling on wind-blown waves. We begin preparing to dive, Nicel Ann does not look very comfortable. My dive buddy Tony may be feeling worse as well. We gear up with the narrow hull pitching and rolling, three divers and a divemaster. We roll in, and Tony immediately gets a blast of wind driven salt water in his mouth. Already not feeling 100% from the pitching boat, he decides this is a dive best not done and swims back to the ladder. The three of us remaining swimming to the marker and begin our decent. At 30’ down I realize that I am working much harder than I should to descend. A quick check in my vest pockets reveals the cause in that someone has taken the weights out of my BC , and I’m light about 4 pounds from my normal weight. I fin down, hoping the depth will help me shed enough buoyancy to comfortably dive. At the wreck and I am barely neutral, and float up slightly on each inhalation. I swim the Skyraider from tail to nose then decide on an early ascent before the reducing air pressure in my aluminum cylinder causes a problematic increase in my buoyancy. I take a few pictures at the nose of the wreck and signal the divemaster my intention and head back to the surface. On top the wind is brisk and the bay covered with white caps. I climb onboard and we talk about the next dive, and if there should be one. I am reflecting on the wisdom of James’s words as I watch Nicel Ann sit quietly in the pitching boat. We recover the last two divers and discuss what is next. Mike, our trusted divemaster and guide for the day, decides on the shallow wreck of a Japanese patrol boat not too far away in a protected cove. We head in that direction, with Nicel Ann still not looking so good, but Ivy Joy smiling despite the occasionally spray coming into the boat over the rail. Once inside the bay, conditions improve considerably, calm water, and no wind. Nicel Ann is looking better, my Tony has washed the salt water down with plenty of fresh, and I have add the missing 4 pounds of weight to my BCD from the spares kept on the boat.  The Japanese patrol boat is a beautiful shallow wreck that is abundant with life. In the calm waters we glide bow to stern and back, enjoying the variety and volume of animals that inhabit the wreck. While we dive the girls and boat crew relax on the Banka. After a long leisurely dive we climb back aboard and prepare for the ride home. As we round the point leaving the protection of the cove, the wind and the chop of the hits us head on. Sheets of of water slice down the side of the Banka and throw heavy spray onboard. I position myself as best I can to block the water from Ivy Joy and Nicel Ann from the water. After spending an hour plus on the bottom, I am pretty chilled to begin with, but I am doing my best to catch the spray and shield the girls. Behind me Mike and Tony have given the girls fins to hold up to protect their faces from the water. Ivy Joy is wet, but smiling brightly. I am remembering the old days working on a fishing boat off Cape Cod during the winter season, when the waves would break on the rail and throw cold water across the deck. In this case, the water is tropical, and the spray is feels warm compared to the wind. We move across the bay with the divers doing their best to act as shields against the wind blown waves. Mike and Tony as well are holding up fins in an effort to shield the girls as best they can. Finally we pull close to shore, and in the lee of the land. We slip past the floating bar and the Banka is nose up on the beach. Ivy Joy is still smiling. She has gone through the whole day barely phased, bright and cheerful, through waves of ocean spray, vomiting divers, and a pitching banka. I can only think that my daughter is a rock star. Once we hit the beach, instead of walking up to the bow ladder and stepping onto the beach, she vaults over the side into waist deep water, soaking her jeans. So much for all that work keeping her dry. Somewhere above me I know my parents are watching this and getting a good laugh. They could never keep me out of the water long if I was close to it. Nicel Ann is smiling as well as we move onto the beach. Lunch, some sunshine, and a nap is in my future, and life is good.


It is my 3rd day back diving in Subic Bay and I find myself floating though the El Capitan wreck, watching the sunlight streaming into the internal spaces we fin though. Marine life grows and moves everywhere on and in this man-made structure, transforming it from a lost machine of the surface world to a vibrant part of the underwater community.  “I am in Church” my internal dialog speaks clearly to me. “Blasphemy”, a more traditional turn of my mind replies.

My mother was an extremely religious person raised in the catholic faith, with two aunts who were Nuns, she briefly pursued a life in the convent before deciding she wanted marriage and a family. As a kid, church was our Sunday routine, and in the summer the warm breezes and bright sunshine through the open stain-glass windows challenged our behavior and chaffed at our patients throughout the mass. The salt air and sunshine called to us to be where we knew we truly belonged, splashing in the shallows of the tidal creek, or exploring the depth and opportunities the high tide brought us along the shoreline. We streamed out of church, positioned after communion as close as possible to the side exit doors, and then raced home to strip off our good clothes in exchange for sun faded, mud stained swimming shorts.

My mother always made sure we went to church on Sunday, even when it meant walking us past the adult theaters and burlesque houses of New Orleans famed Bourbon street when we traveled there. On that occasion we arrived at an impressive Cathedral, but at the wrong time for mass. I always remember the tall busty women with the unbuttoned blouse and ample cleavage who stepped out of a bar and walked past us in the opposite direction on our way home. My father mustered his best concerned parent voice and said, “that poor women is going to get a chest cold.” Good one, Dad. It was also one of the times Mom made the point of telling us you could pray anywhere, that you didn’t have to be in church, and on those rare (very) occasions we could not make it to mass, or find a church while traveling,  it was our prayers  and reflection, and  not the venue,  that was important.

In my adult years I have rarely made church, but always remembered Mom’s guidance regarding pray outside of regular Sunday service. My mother also had a wonderful way of reconciling whatever scientific discoveries may have come along that conflicted with previously held religious beliefs. Thanks to a science teacher somewhere long ago in her catholic education, my mother had a simple remedy for the things that didn’t quite fit. “Science” she had been told, and took to heart, “reveals the Omnipotence of God”. Basically, if something new is discovered, even if it seems to conflict, it was/is just part of a bigger picture we are still unable to fully see.  Like a tremendous jigsaw puzzle, the more we know, the more is revealed, and we have faith in the guy who put the picture on the box that we will eventually be able to grasp the true magnificence hidden in all those confusing pieces. For myself this has come to mean, Muslim, Jewish, Wiccan, Buddhist, Atheist, whatever you believe, we will never know which of us are right and which of us are wrong, if any are,  within our lifetime. None of us can see the whole picture, and no benevolent superior being would ever condemn a good and decent person who happened to be raised in the wrong belief system, practiced the wrong rituals, or prayed in the wrong building.  As Mom would tell you, you can pray anywhere.

Most religion have at their core the same basic ideas, be good to each other, help the next guy out, keep a good thought in your head for your neighbor, and if possible, try to leave the world a little bit better place than you found it. (To me, this also includes the hope people will realize the value of the oceans and leave them for the next generation to look at with awe and wonder, and not just a convenient place to dump trash).

I am thinking all these thoughts as I am floating around my church of the day, the wreck of the El Capitan. Now home to an abundance of marine life, and redecorated in nature’s own splendor. As breath-taking as any cathedral on land,  I offer prayers of amazement for all I see around me. The El Capitan was a product of industry brought into the service of mankind by the skilled hands and ingenuity of shipbuilders, crippled by a Japanese torpedo, and dispatched to the bottom of Subic Bay by the fury of nature in the form of a typhoon. This is my church for this day, with sunlight streaming through the portholes and cargo holds, more spectacular than any stain-glass in any house of worship onshore. I am humbled and inspired, and I reflect on the hard work and diligence that went into fabricating the original hull, as well as the pride and affection of the crews that sailed her during her service above the water.

We divers and fish now share these spaces, ramble and explore nature’s work in progress. This church spawns profound thoughts as I float along inside. There are not many places in life I am happier than here underwater, in a church created by the ocean out of what was once just another cog of industry. I remember my mothers words, I am thankful of my opportunity to enter such a glorious place, and to be so inspired by the beauty that is around me.

Fire-Eating Ladyboys, With Drums….

Ok, so no snow here in Olongapo, but still lots of traditional Christmas Carols. The week after Christmas, though, this group comes door-to-door. My daughter handed me an envelope in the morning, in preparation for the visit. I had no real idea what to expect, but I put 40 peso in and forgot about it. The drums are amazingly loud, and you could here them coming down the street. Throughout the video you can here one of the group asking for 1000 peso. I added 400 to the original 40 peso, they where pretty good….

Turkey’s Done!

Note to self / Lesson for the Day: Be careful what flippant remarks you make,  because you may have to explain them in greater detail than you ever intended.

Tossing out a casual, glib, and somewhat crass remarks based in your home town culture,  can lose all potential comedic value (however small that may have originally been) and cause wasted time and energy,  if there is no local reference for your clever remark.

I give you first the pop-up turkey timer. This simple and revolutionary plastic device  has ensured properly cooked birds for decades now in the factory-farmed U.S. poultry industry. The timer was originally invented by Eugene Beals, a member of the California Turkey Producers Advisory Board, in the early 1970’s, in an effort to improve everyone’s holiday turkey experience by avoiding burnt and dried-out turkey.

(good article on him here: .

Mr Beal’s simple and brilliant invention has become a commonplace part of cooking poultry for the last 40 years in American kitchens.  When the bird is cooked, the plastic timer pops up, and “Turkey’s Done!” Poultry in the Philippines has a much shorter journey from barnyard to table. There is no big turkey consuming holiday here, and I’m fairly certain no turkey producers advisory board. Turkeys here are small farm or backyard raised and the person selling  the bird is likely also the one who raised it and dispatched it. The pop-up timer is not a part of Filipino kitchens or society.

Fast forward now to a recent trike ride here in Olongapo on a side street full of trike and pedestrian traffic. Watching the flow of people and vehicles swirl and mix is always an interesting scene from the almost street level view of a trike seat. A girl moving towards us stands out to me for having made a daring or questionable choice for undergarments, or lack there of, and an even more daring or questionable choice of a dress and fabric, considering her previous decision. As she walks towards us, standing out from the crowd, I can’t help myself. “Turkey’s Done!”, I say out loud. Irene, who has been paying less attention to the crowd and is half awake sitting next to me, perks up immediately.

“What mean that?” she asks in a suspicious way that makes me realize I have made a mistake.

I attempt to explain very briefly the remark, without drawing too much attention to myself and my observant nature. After a few minutes of explanation, highlighting  the basics of American poultry and Mr. Beal’s revolutionary timer, I succeed in creating only a more curious scowl. I now begin to mentally coach myself on avoiding this mistake in the future while trying to remain positive and helpful.  I carefully try to string together the connection between what I saw and what I said, increasingly feeling like I am tying my own noose for the gallows. She is not understanding or not impressed. Either way, I am happy when the road begins to open and the trike pics up speed. On the clearer road we leave the pedestrian swirl and failed humor behind. I am grateful for the whine of the trike, and every moment it moves us closer to Barrio Barretto.

If you are one those people that occasionally tosses out this remark, I urge you to consider more strongly your audience, and to think as well of Mr. Beal’s real contribution to properly cooked turkey.  Did you know as well those timers are re-usable? Maybe I’ll save a couple to bring with me to the Philippines next trip.

Being Sick in Subic


Being sick is usually always better at home where you are comfortable and haven’t invested any vacation money or effort to be where you will be sleeping between trips to the bathroom. I felt it coming on Thursday night, and realized Friday might be a washout. I had plans for this Friday. They involved going diving Friday morning, and to the Arizona Resort Score Bar for the Jolly Joker Jackpot drawing on Friday night. The Jolly Joker is a weekly Friday night raffle and social/drinking event where every drink you buy come with a ticket. At the height of the evening, numbers are drawn, and if your ticket is selected, you have a chance to pick the joker from a pack of overturned playing cards pinned to a cork board. If you select the Joker, you win the cash jackpot. For each week the Joker stays hidden, the prize increases. Jackpots have grown to over 150,000 peso. Great fun, but potentially tough on the liver, if you are really want to win. If your the generous type that likes to buy a round or two, you could increase your tickets and your odds that way. If you don’t want to risk organ damage, or at least incredibly sloppy drunkenness, you can enlist the aid of one of the Score bar girls to drink with you, at “Lady Drink” prices, meaning her drink cost three times as much as yours. Myself and Irene have traveled by trike from the apartment in Olongapo to Barrio Barretto to check into both diving and a room at the Arizona Friday night. My plan is to stop at the Arizona resort, check in with the dive shop, inquire about room availability, and finish off with a drink and some video of sunset from the floating bar. I am now feeling increasingly in the grip of something unpleasant. I am also dealing with a stiff back from an awkward sleeping position. My minds eye is not painting a pretty picture of myself as we move through traffic then pass by the Arizona and continous on down the street. I look at Irene who has decided drinks first at the T-Rose bar. She is not a fan of the floating bar, and my plans fro sunset video are slipping away. I have become more concerned with how well I am not feeling, and decide on a head on assault to combat the oncoming ailment, as well as the stiff back. We disembark the trike outside T-Rose and walk past a tall ladyboy sitting at the entrance and into the interior darkness of the bar illuminated by orange rope lighting. A gaglge of 5 or 6 bar girls are shuffling in a circle on a small round stage, singing along to the music video on the big screen TV. The hostess and Irene walk us toward a booth, and I imediatly divert us to seats at the end of the small bar, which are less cozy, and more functional. I order my first attempt at self medication, a San Migueal Light, and my almost 6 month pregnant girlfriend orders mango juice (more on the math there later). As we begin to sip our drinks the ladyboy from the door walks in with a disheveled looking charechtor who, judging by the reaction of the staff, is an old friend or somewhat regular. The bar owner (assuming here) shakes his hand and welcomes hime back, and the girls stop their shuffling and come over to great him. “Remember what you promised last time” one girl reminds him, “threesome!”. I’ve never been too carried away with being over-dressed or over-primped, but this dude looks like he just washed ashore after surviving some sort of maritime disaster. Oh well. Judging by the warmth of the greeting, he must be a pretty good guy, or at least a big spender, barnacles aside. I get through two bottles of San mig light, and glance at the clock. Still early enough to catch the dive shop, so we pay up and head out. By the time we leave the Arizona, I am feeling it worse, and although I have a slim hope for the next day diving, my realistic expectation for tomorrow is bed rest. I make it into the door at the apartment and onto the small love seat / sala set on the first floor. I watch TV as Irene moves to the kitchen to eat. I have no interest in food. I am feeling a growing lethergy and discomfort in my belly. Irene checks my forhead, and a couple other spots for good measure, and tells me I have fever. I doze off on the couch and awake to my daughter dabbing a cool alcohol and water soaked cloth across my forhead and neck. She proceeds to wash my arms, hands, neck, face, and forhead again to cool the warm skin. I am a very lucky guy. Irene is already getting a shopping list together, gatoraid, BiFlu, Imodium. The neat thing here in the Philippines is that you can buy one, two, three, six, however many pills you want or need with getting the whole package. My mother never threw anything away, and her medicine cabinet was an amazing collection of remidies, many of which had long passed there sell by date. When myself and my brother cleaned out some of the cabinets at her house after she passed, it was amazing to find 1990 era medications, or older. Some I swear I remember from childhood, and more than a couple no longer made. Ergophene ointment, a drwawing salve for splinters, I think dated from back in the 70’s. In some cases I could remember the situation or illness from a point in my life when medicine was used. Here in PI, no need for a big medicine cabinet, or even dosage instructions. Just by as you need. Being sick is no fun, but I have a limited budget for the 30 plus days I am here, and some down time at the apartment was part of the plan. I also have a secret weapon, thanks to a great travel doctor. On my first trip to the Philippines I went to Sandwich Urgent Care to get some of the reccomended vaccinations for travel to PI (FYI: ). The doctor who did my jabs also had some experience traveling, and offered to write me a perscription for Ciprotech anti-biotic. “Keep them in your bag”, he advised, “No need suffering long term from food poisoning on vacation”. He went on to say they usually had a longer shelf life than advertised, and related a story about using a bottle that was a year out of date to knock down an intestinal issue from food he ate while traveling with a medical outreach program. The pills in question had now been in my bag since November 2013, happily unneeded. I doubled up the first dose the next morning, something I think I remembered was right, either from my travel doc, or maybe Mom’s cancer treatment regimine. Either way, I went all in, reasoning if the pills had weakened, it would help, and if they hadn’t, I’d start things off with a bang. During the day I rested and scrolled though some Google searches regarding the shelf life of Cipro, and the potential hazards of expired antibiotics. It turns out that the military had done some testing, and pills, especilly tablet form similar to mine, have a substantially longer shelf life than advertised. The good news is these are likely 100% or close to it. Next I search for my symptoms, just to be safe, and all signs point to an intestinal infection. I am in the master bedroom at the apartment, complete with private bathroom, which sounds ideal for this situation. If you ever spent a lot of time working as an interstate long haul driver, or perhaps using construction site porta-potties, the bathroom here would barely faze you at all. Conversly, If you are someone who is acustomed to some form of cleanliness /sanitation, and have grown used to toilets that have seats and flush, the bathroom here might be cause for concern. The room is long and narrow with high ceilings and black and brown tile that reminds me of the service station rest rooms my parents hated to have us use when we traveled as kids. The grout is dirty with no recognizable attempts to make it otherwise. The walls are topped by a cracked, water stained ceiling and a single bare lightbulb. Spider webs hang along the edges, complete with a slender, non-threatening looking spider I saw while shaving one day and have never been absolutely certain since would not drop down at an unexpected moment. There is a curtainless shower area at the far end of the room with a strip or plasticcord tied between two rusty fasteners where a curtain should hang. Two pairs of panties are hung for there for drying instead. On the wall behind the shower is a window completly covered by a yellow, once white, bedsheet with blue flowers, cut and folded for its new purpose. The toilet, like the other two in the apartment, has no seat, and the flush mechinism has long ago fallen apart and sits broken in the empty flush tank. Flushing is done by bucket, filled from the shower area, and any non-liquid contribution to the bowl requires some extra help with the plunger, and usually a second bucket of water.
I begin my day taking my second dose of Cipro around 6 AM. I feel weak, and my belly is not happy. I guess I have a fever, but i’m not sure, but the discomfort bellow my belly button is real, and I spend my moring sleeping, visiting the bathroom, plunging, and sleeping. Irene feeds me gatoraid and tries to get me to eat a variety of foods which I refuse. I settle for bananas, her mothers reccomendation, and google some natural treatments for intestinal infections between naps.
I add ginger and yogurt to the next shopping list, as well as mint tea. Ivy Joy comes home from school for lunch and informs her Grandmother she will stay home from aternoon classes to help her dad. The day grinds on, sleep, bathroom, plunge, sleep. I have deep sleeps and fitful vivid dreams. Things could be worse. Sitting on the toilet here is a tremendously preferred choice to placing my face anywhere close to it. Saturday comes, more sleep, less trips to the restroom, and eventually I am feeling improvement. Ice cream eventually gets me out of bed Saturday. We need to go order it for Ivy Joy’s class Christmas party, so I answer the call, somewhat groggy, and make the trip on foot a few blocks to fix the order for the coming Tuesday, then back home for a bit more sleep. I’m feeling better, thanks to Cipro and solid advice that didn’t expire.

Getting Around on Trikes

If Mister Toad’s Wild Ride ever left Disney World and was projected into everyday reality, you would have a pretty good approximation of the Trike experience. Convenient  and plentiful, trikes allow people to move easily in population areas  all over the Philippines. To use one analogy, if the Philippines was a body, and the Filipino people the  oxygen that gave the body life, then trikes are the red blood cells that distribute the oxygen as necessary throughout the body. Trikes keep things flowing in a country where nearly 50% of the population does not own a car.  A friend who visited Olongapo while in the Navy described to me leaving the bars and heading back to the ship, with sailors in  separate trikes offering  a cash bonus  to the driver who arrived first, insuring a memorable ride that would make Ben-Hur proud. Trikes are a great and inexpensive way to get exactly where you are going in the Philippines. Another unique form of mass transit is the Jeepnee. Jeepnees are jeeps, stretched into improvised buses that run on set routs from point to point around the city.  Jeepnees originally where created from a surplus of left over U.S. Army jeeps left over in the Philippines after World War 2. Jeepnee’s are colorful, abundant, and an interesting experience. They are also very inexpensive to ride, and very cozy (Read: if you don’t like to be in small spaces with large groups of random people, you may prefer the trike).

If you want to get a virtual taste of the trike experience,  bellow is a loosely narrated trike ride from By The Sea hotel in Barrio Barretto to  Olongapo.  The ride cost 200 peso per trike (about $4.00 at the time, we have two trikes going here). As in most similar situations, pricing is best agreed upon before the ride begins. There are informal ideas of rates, but no meter, and you should tell the driver your destination and agree on the rate beforehand to avoid overpaying or any other misunderstanding at the end of the ride.