Chapter 54 – Help a Brother Out
The day after the homeless Filipino feast, I got up around ten in the morning and was still completely shitfaced from all the self-abuse I’d inflicted the evening previous. Trying my absolute best not to forget anything of value, I took inventory while jamming this, that and the other thing into my bag in preparation of catching a 1pm flight home. When I decided I was ready, I checked out of the hostel, stepped into the street and flagged down the first taxi I saw. I opened the door and climbed in the back. The big fat-ass cab driver who looked like something out of a Botero painting put his arm around the back of the passenger seat for leverage and turned to look at me.
“Where are you going?”
“Ninoy Acquino International Airport, please.”
Following a nod of the head, the guy turned back around, put his foot on the pedal and we were on our way.
“So,” he said while looking in the rearview mirror, “were you in Manila on holiday or for work?”
Since I’d had a scuzzy beard, was wearing the same sleeveless tank I had for the past three days and stunk like a gin mill, I thought it would’ve been more obvious.
“It was for holiday.”
“How long were you here?”
“Only two nights.”
“Did you have a good time?”
“Yeah. Went to Makati Coliseum yesterday afternoon to see some sabong then had some drinks at night. I had a great time.”
“That’s good,” he smiled. “Where are you from?”
“Really? What part?”
“Oh man, that’s great. It’s always been my dream to live in America.”
“Why don’t you come on over, then? You seem to already know English pretty well. You could probably drive a taxi in any city you wanted.”
“Eh man, I got kids.”
“Pack up your kids and your woman. Bring them along too. The more the merrier, I say.”
“No man, I got five kids. I can’t afford it.”
“Yeah,” he looked at me one more time in the mirror while wistfully nodding his head.
For the rest of the ride we had nothing to say to each other. When we got to the airport, he relayed to me the amount on the meter. I opened up my wallet and in cash, I’d more than three times what I owed for the ride. I grabbed the whole lot of it and handed it over to the great big fat person at the wheel.
“Hope to see you in America someday,” I said.
He grinned, thanked me and I shut the door.
No more than two-and-a-half weeks before the day of my departure, back when I’d still been with the O’Shaughnessy’s in Cambodia, a rogue ATM machine had swallowed up my debit card. On that trip, that debit card had been my only access to cash money. After that, I’d been paying for most of my meals and all of my accommodation on my credit card which I could not use for ATM withdrawals. And all the cash that I’d had on me – the last of which I’d just given to that cab driver – was part of the sum I’d borrowed from my buddy O’Shaughnessy when we’d parted ways a week beforehand in Thailand.
After checking in for my flight, the woman behind the desk informed me I had little over an hour before the plane boarded. I thanked her, took my ticket and my passport and headed towards border control. Following a twenty or so minute wait in line, I got to the front and handed the officer my passport and boarding pass.
“Okay,” he said, “I need your terminal fee.”
He sighed as if he’d heard that response twenty times a day.
“In Philippines, you pay five-hundred-fifty Pesos terminal fee to leave the country.”
This is the equivalent of somewhere between ten and fifteen dollars.
“Are you serious?”
“Okay,” I whipped out my credit card and held it out for him to take, “here.”
“I don’t have any cash.”
“Well sir, the ATM machine is right back out that way.”
“But I don’t have an ATM card either. I only have a credit card. No withdrawal. Credit only.”
He shrugged and slid my shit back across the counter before waving up the next person in line.
With only forty-five minutes until boarding time, I began to feel quite uneasy. Thanks to my still-drunk-from-the-night-before logic, I decided to go to the ATM machine because I rationalized that maybe it was a special one that dishes out money and charges whatever it puts out onto your credit card bill. After sticking my plastic in the thing, I found out just how wishful my thinking had been.
With sweat starting to drip down my forehead and back, I approached the nearest security guard for some assistance.
“Hi,” I said to some dude in uniform, “do you speak English?”
“Alright, great,” I panted. “Before coming to the airport, I didn’t know you guys had a terminal fee here, okay. So, I gave the last of my cash to the taxi driver who gave me a ride over here. And the thing is, I don’t have an ATM card to get any more out because it got lost in Cambodia. All’s I have is this,” I help up my credit card. “Are there any banks at the airport that front cash for credit cards or any way I could use this card to pay my terminal fee or something like that?”
“Yeah, no problem,” the guy bopped his head up and down. “ATM machine is right over there.”
My heart nearly sank out my asshole.
“No, you see, this is a credit card. It doesn’t work in ATM machines. It’s credit only.”
He picked the card from my hand and held it up to his face.
“Come,” he said and I followed him back over to the machine whereupon he put the card in just as I had a minute beforehand. “It’s like this,” he said. “You select English,” he pushed English, “and now you enter your PIN. Then after that, you can get cash.”
I looked at the screen which had been waiting for me to punch in my four-digit code.
“I don’t have a PIN number. It’s a credit card. Credit Cards don’t come with PIN numbers.”
“You don’t know your PIN number?”
“No, it’s not that I don’t know it, I don’t have one. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”
The guy looked at me as if I were the stupidest person with whom he’d ever interacted.
“Okay,” I hit cancel on the machine and retrieved my card. “Thank you for your help.”
The clock was ticking. I was in a full-blown panic. That flight home cost eight-hundred dollars and I couldn’t afford to miss it. After taking a deep breath, I came to the unfortunate conclusion that begging strangers was the only way to make happen what I needed to happen.
“Hey, hey excuse me,” I way-too-aggressively accosted a thirty-something-year-old European couple who’d been walking past the ATM machine, “can I borrow five-hundred-and-fifty pesos?”
They pretended they didn’t hear me.
After taking a few seconds to rethink my approach, I decided to walk back by the border control area with my passport and ticket in hand as viable proof to show fellow travelers that I did indeed have all intention of getting on a flight that afternoon had they spotted me the dough.
“Hello, excuse me,” I approached another young Western couple who’d had blonde hair, blue eyes and strong German accents, “I know this sounds ridiculous but…”
I gave them the run-down as they nodded at the facts.
“…so, can I borrow five-hundred-and-fifty pesos from you to catch my flight that’s about to board? Here, look at my ticket. Time is running out.”
The dude grabbed my boarding pass and gave it a look.
“Ah, I see,” he said. “But how are you going to pay me back?”
“Well,” I’d been so preoccupied with getting out of there that I hadn’t considered that aspect of the deal, “I don’t know. I could mail it to you, I guess.”
“Hmm, I don’t think that’s going to work out. We’ll be travelling for the next five months.”
“Well, I could mail it to you after that.”
“We can’t do it. I’m sorry. The best of luck to you.”
They just looked at me.
“Shit,” I said then stormed off, rambling around, looking for who I could ask next.
After getting ignored by a few passing Filipino families I’d decided to ask for the hell of it, somewhere near the check-in area at the front of the airport I saw an elderly white couple sitting with their carry-on bags at their feet. Hoping they were the gullible kind of old people who hand their life savings over to strange con artists at the drop of a hat, I decided to go after ‘em.
“Hello, sir. Hello, ma’am.”
They nodded at me in acknowledgement but looked confused as to why I’d been talking to them.
“Do you guys speak English?”
“Of course,” the man replied in a French accent.
“That’s great,” I said. “Um, I’m not gonna lie to you. I’m in a bit of a jam here. You see, I recently lost my ATM card and when I did, I had a limited amount of cash on me. Since that day I’ve been spending my money very carefully, making sure I’d have just enough for the rest of my holiday. As it turns out, I did have enough money – I’d actually set aside more than enough money. But you see, after getting a cab ride to the airport, I figured I wouldn’t need any of those extra pesos I’d saved and gave whatever I had left to the cab driver. But, uh, what I didn’t know was that they had a five-hundred-fifty peso terminal fee to get out of the country and with no cash and no ATM card, I have no way of paying this fee. And my flight leaves within an hour.”
I held out my ticket for them to see and the guy grabbed it for inspection.
“They’re gonna start boarding the plane in twenty minutes and I still hafta go through security and border control. You might be my last shot to make this flight on time. So, the reason I approached you is to ask you if you’re willing to lend me five-hundred-and-fifty pesos so I can get back home to my family.”
“Let me see your passport,” the man said.
I handed it over and he flipped to the information page. As he looked at it, he held it up for his wife to read as well. In French, they discussed the situation.
“Mr. Timothy John Lally…from Chicago.”
“I understand your problem,” he said as he handed back my boarding pass and my little blue book. “I’ve been in and out of the Philippines many times over the years. In addition to our own children who are in their forties now – one of whom lives in Missouri – we have a couple adopted children from here who we’ve just spent the last ten days visiting. So, I have the advantage of knowing all about the terminal fee.”
“Yeah, it caught me by surprise.”
“I can see that. But what I need to know is, how will you repay me?”
This time I was a little more prepared.
“The minute I get back to my home in Chicago, before I even give my mother a hug or eat any of the food I’ve missed so much this past month, I will write a check and get it in the mail to whatever address you want me to send it to.”
“Hmm,” he turned to his wife and they exchanged a few words in their native tongue. “Okay,” he added, “now that I know how you would repay me, how do I know that you are going to repay me?”
When I was asked this question, I couldn’t help but think of the time that my friends and I had gone to play baseball at Brooks Park the summer after graduating eighth grade.
The part of the park where we liked to play “lob league baseball” as our head grade school gym coach Derf used to refer to it as, happened to be a grassy field that bordered the backyard belonging to our assistant grade school gym coach, Bart. Sometimes on nice days – before we’d ruined the privilege by getting caught throwing rocks at cars on Touhy Avenue while in transit – Derf would lead our gym class on a two-block walk over to the park to play softball in the aforementioned field. Prior to these sessions, Bart would open up the overhead door on his garage where all sorts of sporting equipment had been stored, grab whatever we needed and set it up in the field for us to play on. Yada yada yada, a good time was had by all.
Post-grammar-school-graduation, on the aforementioned summer day, about four or five of us had showed up to that same grassy field to bat some balls around and play a pick-up game. Instead of using random pieces of trash or the mitts of the batting team as bases as we so often had, we decided on that day that we wanted to play with real bases. To satisfy this fanciful whim, we went into Bart’s backyard, walked past his swimming pool and knocked on his back door. He answered it wearing one of his infinite number of t-shirts with a “HOUNDS” decal across the chest.
“Yeah sure, I guess you can borrow the bases,” he said while scratching the back of his head, “but uh, only if you put ‘em back in the garage when you’re done. It’s supposed to rain later today and if those things get wet, they take forever to dry.”
The bases that Bart had were not the kind that were made of rubber. They were the old, cushiony, leathery-feeling, cloth-centered type with the big spikes on the bottom that you use to nail the things into the ground.
“Oh yeah, sure, no problem,” we assured him. “We don’t plan on playing that long so we’ll definitely get ‘em back in there before it starts raining.”
After removing them from the garage that had long been rumored by my buddy Mac as the place where Bart the Undertaker would have sex with dead bodies during his spare time, we set the bases up in the field and played ourselves some ball.
Following a solid two hours of jackin’ homers and chuckin’ frozen ropes, we tired of the game and decided to call it quits. I grabbed one base, a guy named Cahill grabbed another and O’Shea grabbed the third. We headed towards Bart’s backyard to return the borrowed equipment and had gotten to the fence when Cahill decided to take the lead and toss the one he’d been carrying over the seven-foot-tall wooden barrier. About a second later, from the other side, we could hear a loud splash.
“Oh my god!” Cahill laughed. “Right in the fuckin’ pool!”
O’Shea and I did the same thing right after.
Although we didn’t stick around to witness it, I’m guessing Bart wasn’t too happy of a camper when he’d stepped out his back door later that day to find the three dirty-ass bases which he’d been nice enough to lend us floating around in the crystal clear waters of his family swimming hole.
In Manila, with that rotten incident in mind…
“You don’t know that I’m going to repay you – that’s the thing. There’s no guarantee that I won’t go riding off into the sunset with your five-hundred-and-fifty pesos and you’ll never hear from me again. I could be a total thief who’s gonna screw you over. But then again, maybe I’m not. Maybe I’m just a guy who needs to get home that you could help out by slightly inconveniencing yourself,” I paused and took a deep breath. “So, I guess what it comes down to is not me asking you for pesos, but me asking a person in a position to help to take a chance on a guy in need.”
Following my little monologue, he again looked at his wife and she immediately nodded “yes.” The man pulled out a pen and a slip of paper and started scribbling on it.
“Here is my name. I’m Dr. Hans. This is my email,” he imparted without looking up while writing. “And right below it is my daughter’s address in Missouri. Please make out the check to her and send it there. International banking is too much of a hassle.”
He then pulled out his travelling wallet and from it removed a twenty dollar bill, US.
“Here you are,” he reached out with the slip and the cash in the same hand. “I’m interested to see how this experiment turns out.”
“Oh yeah, you don’t hafta worry. I’ll mail it as soon as I get home and…”
“Yeah, we’ll see about that,” he cut me off. “Don’t waste any more time trying to guarantee things uncertain. Go catch your flight.”
As it turned out, I made it to the boarding gate on time and caught my flight back to Chicago via Seoul. Some thirty-plus hours later when I finally got home – unlike the thanks we’d given Bart back in the day – the first thing I did was write a check out to the daughter of Dr. Hans in the amount I owed before sending it off to Missouri. Capping off all aspects of my first trip to Asia, I’d also sent an email to Dr. Hans thanking him again for his generosity and letting him know the check was in the mail.
End of America’s Finest Ambassador