What I miss most about the island I left is that the beer there is overflowing.
No matter how busy you are, it’s always cocktail hour at 5PM, and the malt doesn’t dry up until way into the early dawn. Company is easy to round up, and the variety is always interesting. I have old friends and young friends, same-age friends, single guys and single girls, new couples, older couples in 16-year relationships, male, female, gays, oh you name it.
Nights out are never boring, at least none that I remember. We usually start out, Snow and I, just the two of us sharing stories over our cold San Migs. I remember it fondly, we would be among the first regulars at our favorite bar, plopping down our butts and motioning for a cold one even before the sun had set.
Then as the hours went by, our friends would trickle in. Usually the college students arrive first, eager to escape an education. Then the office folks would drop by, the more conscientious ones, the ones who actually wait for the business day to be over before hitting the bars. Then the spurious professionals will arrive, late into the night after their freelancing or deal making was done. These are the charming ones, the ones who, without discernible means of income still manage to pay for their beers. Later still, after deadlines, a select few from the media and the production houses might pass by to relax after an arduous day, swap beat stories, or just clasp a bottle and chill out.
Everyone is welcome at our table, and soon the slabs of wood joined together make a long line of beer guzzlers. We are, invariably, a merry bunch, and the diverse ages and persuasions make for interesting mixes of conversation. You get to know a little bit about everything. And though not many of us are shy to begin with, the alcohol lubricates our tongues and washes away inhibitions.
Inhibitions go the way of alcohol, absorbed into the night. I’ve seen pairings that bloom in the throes of a drunken spell, and amazingly enough, even survive the next day’s hangover. I’ve also seen, sadly, the dissolution of relationships in the haze of beer stupor. I have sat in on confessions to San Miguel—revelations spanning the gamut of emotional experience—personal crises, lost or unrequited love, job woes, spiritual disillusionment, moral dilemmas.
I have drowned my sorrows—real and imagined—in that golden liquid. My companions, at one time or another in our shared lives, have also done the same. Even now, scattered as we are to the various corners of the earth, we turn to the comfort of friendships cemented over an amber bottle.
Just lately, a guy friend called me, asking to meet at a local bar here. For some reason or other, we haven’t had much chance to swap beer stories for almost two years, this friend and I. But when we sat across each other that night, our cold San Migs safely clasped in hand, the silence fell away fast and we were drinking buddies again. The beer was sweet and cold, the night pleasantly balmy; perhaps there were stars out. I didn’t look, but I didn’t have too. Everything I could have wished for at the end of the day was there at that table, and boy, when that buzz hits you, everything feels just fine.
*As I write this, it’s the height of MassKara season in Bacolod, and I bet, the livin’ is easy. Bottoms up, mga Ilonggos!