Dear Friends,

               Kumusta kayong lahat. I hope you're still alive because ako rin, buhay pa. Before anything else, I would like to thank all those who remembered me during my birthday last July. Thanks for all the cards and best wishes. Yung nakalimot, don't worry, at my age, I try to FORGET my birthday while friends try to REMIND me.
O sige, tama na yan.

I'm sure you've noticed that I haven't sent emails (or letters) for the past month or so. That's because of two reasons: I got tired of my slow computer and secondly, I had been super busy since the beginning of July to Aug 9 because of my class reunion in Las Vegas (HS '65 -ugh!) concerts with Eric Bondoc and summer holiday in New York. Without much ado, here is the blow by blow account. By the way, I will be mentioning names of people that you may or may not know. They are either former Glee Club members, friends from Angeles or MSC priests or ex-seminarians. Just ignore the names if you don't know these people.

1. Last July 6 to 8, I went to Las Vegas for my school (seminary) reunion. These consisted of people who were with me during my seminary days in Angeles (1961-1966). All have left and have their own families now. Louie Rueda organized it. My classmate Deutz Tomalon (the real professional pianist of my class) recently relocated to Las Vegas from San Francisco and it was good time to visit him and have a reunion with our other classmates. Seminary-mates who came were Hector Poblete and family, Ver Eco and wife Nini, Danny Rodriguez minus wife Esther, Gene Salle and wife Nene, Nestor Baula and wife Nimfa, host Deutz and wife Zeny and me. Louie, ang walanghiyang organizer, suddenly wasn't able to make it because business partners from India arrived in New York, where he lives. Fr. Oscar Tabujara, Titus Versoza, Felix Villapando, etc. couldn't make it either. We had the best time reminiscing lahat ng mga kalokohan namin during our seminary days. I never laughed so much in a long time. We went around and ate and ate. July 7 (the eve of my birthday), the whole group went to Sun Coast Hotel for a surprise gift for me. We sat down on one long table with the darkened stage and dance floor in front of us. When the lights dimmed and the band started to play, I was joyfully shocked to see two of my former Glee Club members singing as soloists of the band: Elmer Yumul and Michelle Aquino. Gosh, they were so good and the crowd loved them. That made me very very proud. I told them they should perform in the Philippines and show everyone what world class entertainers they had become. I spent all their breaktimes with them in their dressing room just telling stories and tsismis. Tess, her sister, was at home and I just talked to her on the phone. The following day, I treated all my classmates in a filipino all-you-can-eat restaurant. Masarap pero malangaw kasi it was downtown (not the hotel row).
Gosh, inside, parang karinderia talaga. Yan ang tinatawag na "ambience".

            Las Vegas was warm (in the mid-80s) but it could have been warmer (their usual temperature is 100 degress and above). Umulan kasi ng malakas nung dumating ako - which is rare for Las Vegas. There was a construction boom as lots of Californians, priced out of the market with half a million dollar homes here, were buying homes in LV. For example, a $600,000 home in San Jose costs only $200,000 in LV. I heard from someone that Las Vegas in the fastest growing city in the world. There was nothing to see in LV though except the mammoth hotels. Bellagio, Venetian, Rio, etc are just too much to even describe. Aside from that, it is all desert, tourists, gamblers and conventioners. Oh by the way, a week after our reunion, the Holy Family Academy alumnae had a reunion in Sun Coast Hotel, again with Michelle and Elmer (and Tess this time), providing musical entertainment. I heard it was very well attended.

2. The second thing that kept me out of the computer was my concerts with Eric. Last May, Eric called me up and suggested that we do a show together to raise funds for his pet project: AIDS VACCINE RESEARCH. I said yes, feeling very tired from teaching piano non stop. He actually broached the idea to me three years ago but I was just very busy then. This time I was ready to do something different and something that I missed very much: performing.  However, preparing for it wasn't easy at all for the simple reason that Eric was 5,000 miles away from me and we couldn't try the songs, much less rehearse. We sent musical materials and ideas back and forth through the mail, phone and email. Through the help of former classmates and family members, we were booked for three performances: Cinegrill in Los Angeles (July 24) , Saratoga Community Center in San Jose (Aug 3 & 4), and West End Theater in New York (Aug 5). On July 21, I flew to LA to meet with Eric for the first time since the concert was conceptualized. Ranelle Salunga, who is based in San Diego, was there to meet me at the airport. I was pleasantly shocked because I didn't expect him to be there. I haven't seen the guy in ages and he is still the great fellow I knew. After dinner and lots of stories, Ranelle drove back to SD and Eric and I went home and  rehearsed from 12 midnight till 4 am. The following days, we rehearsed both at home (his brothers' apartment) and at the Cinegrill (the famous cabaret lounge at Hollywood Blvd. where we were going to perform). This venue is very classy and popular among famous singers. It is situated right on Hollywood Blvd. almost opposite the famous Chinese Mann Theater. We were very lucky to have been booked there. This is what happened. One star cancelled a performance and that's how we got in. The management also waived all fees because it was for charity. Before and after rehearsals, Rico Dungca, who lives in LA, hung around with us and he brought us to a famous Thai restaurant, which served very delicious food. We ate there practically everyday - sometimes twice. July 24 arrived and we were ready to perform. I was nervous. I haven't performed in a concert for 15 years. The show started at 8:15 pm. It was a cabaret show called "Road Dreams". A cabaret is different from a regular concert. It is a combination of theater and concert. In it, Eric narrated things about his biking, his highschool life, his life as an actor, etc and sang songs related to the subject matters. We had funny songs as well which the audience loved. Among the audience were Carlo Tayag and wife Kay, Wayne Bangsil (who will go back to Angeles for good), Jay Pineda and wife, Marlon Mercado, Jesus Suarez, Andy Ayson and friends from Angeles like Manny Espiritu and the Baluyot family and of course Eric's family, relatives and friends. Many HFA alumni were there too. They greeted our performance with a standing ovation. Gosh, the last time Eric and I performed together was almost 20 years ago and we had so little time to prepare. The manager of the Cinegrill recommended us to an agent in New York, if ever we wanted to perform there. After the show, we ate dinner at the Thai restaurant (again). In LA, we stayed with Eric's brothers, Glenn and Ari, in their apartment in beautiful Glendale. There was no time to go around LA, as I flew back to San Jose the following day.

            Oh yes, before I continue, Eric was preparing for the AIDS VACCINE BIKE RIDE in September. So to prepare for it, he biked from Grand Canyon (Arizona) to LA - about 400 miles. While there, we had the show. To come to San Jose, he biked again from LA - logging around 400 miles for five days (a total of 800 miles). You have to salute the man. Gosh, he is so thin and dark. In September he will bike another 400 miles from Maine to Montreal (Canada) with 3,500 bikers, including his wife, Laura, to raise funds for the Aids Vaccine Drive. So far, from the contributions and the concert returns, he has raised over $7,000.
Balik tayo sa kuwento. After a week, Eric arrived in San Jose on July 31. Rehearsals and fine tuning started again in my apartment where he stayed. Meanwhile, the Caballeros started coming out of the woodwork. Robert Yalung who lives in San Jose was busy with the production: renting a hall, selling tickets. Addie Reyes arrived from Utah. Other alumni were Francis Buan and wife Suzette from Salinas, Djong Garces from Newark, Cesar Ramirez from Union City and of course San Jose residents, Ilya Toting and Roden Biag. Ranelle Salunga also flew in again from San Diego. Gideon Grivas and wife Sally attended the performance. Thye live in Union City. Carlo Reinares who lives in San Francisco said he would come but didn't. On Aug 3, we had our performance in San Jose at the Saratoga Community Center. I invited three guests to provide a front act: two singers and a choral group. Again, our performance was greeted with a standing ovation. After the show, the caballeros went to eat in a restaurant and reminisced and laughed till 1:30 a.m. There, humabol si Benjie Magbanua. He missed the show because of an appointment during our show.

            The following day, it was time to return the lights and the pickup we borrowed. The Caballeros had a big lunch at Tess Barbecue in San Jose. Gosh, we ordered everything in the menu. After that, Ranelle and Robert bade their goodbyes. In the afternoon, we had another performance in San Jose (Milpitas) but this time, it was just a variety show, with Eric as featured performer.  Bilib ang mga pinoy sa kanya. They hoped he would get a big break in the future. In fact, he is already being invited to perform here next year. After the show, Eric and I went home and packed our things for our evening flight to New York. We had a final dinner with Addie, Roden and Djong downtown San Jose. Francis and Suzette just had to say goodbye because they had dinner date with a friend in San Francisco. After dinner, we rushed to the airport.Thank God, the plane had few passengers. We just stretched out and slept.

            Louie Rueda picked me up at JFK airport at 6:30 a.m. New York this time of year was very hot. Temperatures were in the 100 degrees. Mainit talaga hanggang gabi and malagkit because of the humidity. I already vowed before that I won't go to NY in August but there I was. Anyway, we proceeded to their house in Long Island (15 minutes from the airport) while Eric took a cab home in Queens. After breakfast and a nap, it was time to say mass at Sacred Heart Church, where Louie is active as a choir member. Their choir, composed of filipinos, sang simply but beautifully. The parishioners were mostly of Italian descent. Danny Rodriguez and wife Esther attended the service. After church, we all ate at a chinese buffet restaurant called EAST in Flushing, New York. Gosh, so much delicious food. Mahal din naman ang presyo. After lunch, we rushed to Manhattan for my coffee appointment with Eric's mom, Grace and her boyfriend Jim. I was late of course and spent just a brief time with them. At 5:30, Eric and I had a technical rehearsal in the West End Theater where we were going to perform. Here is where I had my first hand experience of how Broadway professionals prepare for a show. Victoria, Eric's director in his one man show "Rizal", handled the directing and the lighting. I was just in awe as she dictated all what had to be done speedily and systematically. I didn't even understand some of the theater terms she used. The theater is very small, seating only around 100 people but it had a wonderful ambience. Eric's friends came out in force to support him. His wife Laura and sister Cheryl helped backstage. My friends came too: Louie Rueda and family, Gene Salle and wife and Danny and wife. My MSC confreres, who were working in New York City (mostly Staten Island) were supposed to attend too but nobody came. Mario Ramirez was on vacation, Joey Cervantes was AWOL, Jaime Villaflores was on duty, and Mike Paradela was afraid to travel alone because he still had to come from Staten Island where he had to wait for the bus, the ferry and back again. I knew how dangerous it could be in New York at night. Nevertheless, the show was a hit - ano pa nga ba. Victoria after the show immediately asked me if I could travel - meaning she was planning to bring our show on tour to other cities or to plan for future productions. How's that for my New York debut?

            After the show, my friends all went to Danny's beautiful mini-mansion in New Jersey (about an hour away from Manhattan). There we took a light snack and they sang with a karaoke while I sneaked to my bedroom to sleep. I was totally exhausted. The following day, Danny and I drove to the United Nations in New York City, where he worked as a financial officer (a very high position). After a sumptuous breakfast, he got me a pass to tour the UN and I saw all the different huge chambers (Security Council, General Assembly, etc). Very Impressive to say the least.  In the evening, it was time for me to relax and enjoy my stay in New York. I saw my first broadway show - "Chicago". I loved the music and the choreography. After the show, I took the train (at 11:45 pm) to go to Long Island to Gene Salle's house, where I was going to sleep that night. His wife Nene waited for us and still cooked dinner even though it was past midnight.

            The following day Gene and I and his two guests from Saudi Arabia, Jun and Beth, drove to Philadelphia (2 hours away from New York) to see the shrine of St. John Neuman. Very touching. Fr. Neuman's bones were exposed under the altar. We were able to attend the noon mass. We ate lunch at Pat's steak, the home of the famous Philly Cheese Steak. We also went to see the Liberty Bell, before driving back to New York. Mainit na mainit din sa Philadelphia. That night, I saw my second Broadway show - "The Full Monty". It was hilarious, the songs were beautiful and the ending was a big GASP (if you know what I mean!).  After the show, I took the train to Long Island - to Louie's house, this time, where I was going to sleep.

              Wednesday was a busy day - as it was my last day in New York. At 2 pm, I saw the Broadway musical "Kiss Me, Kate". I didn't like it so much. Ewan ko, baka pagod na lang ako. After the show, I had an early farewell dinner in a chinese restaurant with Danny, Gene and Louie. After that, I proceeded to the Ford Theater to see the musical "42nd Street". I loved this play very much - the music and the tap dancing. It was glorious and a fitting end to my New York stay. Louie picked me up in Manhattan after the show.

            The following day, I had an early flight to San Jose. That very afternoon, I was back to my regular routine - teaching piano once more. Sigh. I realized though that I missed my piano students.

            Well, that's the end of my glorious 4 weeks. I will never forget it - the concerts, the broadway shows, and most especially meeting again my Glee Club and caballero alumni and former seminary mates. We all promised that this is only the beginning and that we will try to have a reunion regularly. Same thing with Eric. We both said that this is only the first of many cabaret shows we will do in the future.

            What's in store for me for the near future? For now, I will be concentrating on hospital work as we have an accreditation survey at the end of September. In October, I will go to Europe/Israel for a three week pilgrimage. November 4, I will have my piano recital. November 27, I fly to the Philippines to celebrate my 25th anniversary to the Priesthood in Angeles on Dec. 1. Hoy, I will expect you all there.

            By the way, I bought a new computer and you will be receiving jokes/inspirationals from me again - whether you like it or not.

            I hope everything's well with all of you. Life is good!
Hanggang sa muli.

Fr. Art