Last Friday, October 18, was educationally fun and architecturally exciting as I and a few of our friends were able to stroll through two (2) floors of a high-rise building (33rd & 34th floors) showcasing various themes and ideas in home decoration and improvement. And these motifs were the brainchild of Filipino Artists cum Interior Decorators who were alumni of the Philippine School of Interior Decoration, wherein our dear friend Janet is currently enrolled to pursue her artistic inclinations.

     I left my office early, around 4:30 p.m. to beat the anticipated EDSA traffic jam that would be starting to build-up because of the prevalent mall-wide sales that weekend (Robinson's & SM Megamall).  But despite leaving office around that time, I arrived in Makati a bit past 6:00 p.m., as I still have to look for LKG Tower along Ayala Avenue with dusk slowly dawning earlier than usual, evident of the Yuletide season in the air.

     After turning right at H.V. dela Costa St. and parking my car at the adjacent open pay-parking lot, I dutifully entered LKG Tower from its rear entrance and subjected myself to a body-frisk from one of the several security officers manning the lobby.  A few yards away is a trained bomb-sniffing dog-a German Shepherd being led by a soldier in fatigue uniform and patrolling the expanse of the building lobby to and fro. It was only then that I became mindful of the reality of the terroristic situation that has been gripping most of the civilized individuals the world over.

     Last year's September 15 Kumustahan, also held somewhere in Makati, was preceded by the infamous coordinated terroristic attacks of 9/11 in the US mainland.  And I can't help but notice that dismay and terror have been hounding some of our get-togethers on a few occasions since last year (wala naman akong balat sa puwet!).  I simply shrugged those cobweb-fears off my mind as I read Janet's text message that instance informing me to text her once I arrived inside the neoteric building.

     But I decided not to answer her message and merely surprise her of my presence by "hunting" her and calling her attention from behind in one of the booths in display. I punched for the 34th floor and a few seconds after, the lift started ascending.  The elevator doors later opened up to a presentation of three (3) various design modules, each with distinctly discernible arrangement being offered in view. I was welcomed and greeted by one of the students of PSID who familiarized me with the flow of the exhibit, informing me that the last booths in display is located below on the 33rd floor. She even offered me a brochure of the exhibit for P300 which I politely refused due to financial constraint (pang StreetLife na rin iyon, 'no).  Several other booths can be easily gleaned down the dimly lit hallway, as this was intended to accentuate the lighting fixtures of the individual compartments and to highlight their uniquely-drawn features.

     I started wandering down the attenuated hall with measured, leisurely steps, feasting my eyes progressively on the disparate enclosures that somehow reflect each artist's whimsical scheme and distinct personality.  First on my right is a three-by-five meter prayer room with large, rectangular, and immaculately white chaise pillows vertically strewn as pews for kneeling down. The room is divided at the center by small white limestones to underscore the devotee's eyes towards the solemn crucifix placed at the center of the altar that is flanked at both sides by transparent glasses with muted waterfalls.  It is a tranquil attempt to simulate the soothing sound of water running gently along a stream to help ease the mind off stressful worries and encourage the faithful in sacrosanct supplication.

     To my left is an old-fashioned sanctuary that would remind us of a homey living room that dates back to our great-grandparents' era. Embroidered curtains hanging extravagantly by the far-side walls, archaic furniture adorned with elaborate lace and trimmings, intricately designed and colorful vases looming from floor to ceiling and dark-bronze candelabras atop mahogany tables. These are the appurtenances that evoke the kind of setting that one's imagination would project upon reading Rizal's description of gatherings in Noli Me Tangere or El Filibusterismo. The only elements missing are the Spanish frailes, generales, dons and doñas buoyantly conversing with each other while being docilely served by indios. 

     A few steps ahead and you will be transported to a room depicting rich Chinese heritage and truly remarkable household furnishings dating as far back as the Ming Dynasty with a subtle touch of novelty. Genuine Chinese artistry is evidently portrayed in an heirloom kitchen cabinet with painstaking latticework that was reportedly shipped by the exhibit organizers direct from Mainland China and leased for a considerable sum of money.  Definitely much better and a touch more elegant than what is typically being shown in Jacky Chan's old movies or Jet Li's "Once Upon A Time in China" series.  This gives credence to the exhibitor's resolve in sparing no effort to manifest authenticity in each and every presentation.

     Then came into view the bedroom section -- the nest of passionate love and cloistered dominion for catching forty winks. One section that stood out in my modest thought showcases a circular waterbed that hugs an equally ring-shaped pillar that serves as its headboard, grasping it seemingly and creating a restful atmosphere of seclusion. The room's overall theme was accentuated by the coloration of its furniture, lighting, and appliances, including the mattress sheets and pillow covers.  The intense drama of black alternately hewn with the elegance of white, contrived a romantic ambience that would certainly contribute to a couple's fervent and intimate moments, with the play of divergent contrast heightening one's fertile imagination.  This is coupled by a cascading effect brought about by the simplicity in color variety emptying the mind of anxiety and paving the way to a romantic interlude.  No wonder its layout is being eyed for adoption by a famous chain of 5-star motel.  shhh. 

     There are several other cubicles offering fresh and novel ideas for everyone to view and examine meticulously. Modernistic kitchen exhibiting current amenities such as gleaming stainless-steel range hood, pantries with smoked-glass portals silhouetting its contents and well-thought-of positioning of working tables, sinks and ranges to compliment the contour of the room and the efficient movement of kitchen people as well. Other quarters astutely insinuate psychedelic themes apt for studios with resplendent paintings, poignant wall decors and eyebrow-raising room accouterments--such as a hammock amidst a backdrop of walls loudly decorated by genuine bamboo shoots to mimic natural surroundings.  This is where Janet would comment much later on how she wished this was her receiving room during her maiden days! But she was quick in adding; "without the hammock, of course!" to answer the suspicious expression that suddenly registered in my face and that remark elicited a boisterous laughter from us all (Louie & husband Jim, Ged, Rommel, Glenda and me).

     Other items of interest include a piece of rough lumber that was carved/designed naturally by white ants (anay) and was ingeniously converted into a wooden lamp, a 360-degree revolving wide-screen placed conveniently at the middle of a viewing room.  Floorings dotted by thick glasses with spruced up sand as adornment underneath, stylish side tables with fitting futons and trendy bathtubs with corresponding porcelain-looking toilet amenities.

   For quite a spell, my feet seemed to have a mind of its own as these displays were imprinted inside my head and I obliviously passed by all the booths except for a remaining few at the far end of the 33rd floor. I've even forgotten my search for Janet who invited me to this exhibit all along and upon remembering her, resumed my intended initial goal of looking for my dear friend straightaway.  But lo and behold, as I was nearing the last few cubicles, a long-legged goddess with a familiar allure caught my complete and undivided attention.  Donning a simple yet graceful scarlet dress that harmoniously went well with her agile and flowing movements, TV and movie personality Carmi Martin further enhanced the light-hearted feeling and excitement already brought about by the exhibit.  She was waving gingerly to someone beyond my sight of view, from across the floor towards the bank of elevators and I had no clue.  When I finally came across the elevator lobby, I was again captivated by another familiar yet more inviting beauty, in the person of my dear friend -- Janetski!  She was wearing that good old recognizable beaming smile, greeted me warmly cheek-to-cheek with the fragrance of lavender and chamomile.

     Instantly, Janet made an effort to introduce me to Carmi who was on her way down to the ground floor.  After Carmi left us, we decided to while away some time by idly sitting down on the lobby sofas and keeping each other posted on our forthcoming grand reunion in December.  I told her that I've already strolled through the booths upstairs as well as down so we just took turns in answering the queries from our friends who were intermittently asking for direction and instruction in reaching our location. Janet even offered me some brownies she bought from the seminar but politely declined so as not to ruin my building appetite.

     After a few moments of waiting, the elevator doors opened once more to surprise us in welcoming Ged who was wearing a crimson red blouse (I thought it was Carmi again who has forgotten something, hehehe), with matching dark pants accompanied by her dapper sister Glenda (who tied the knot last August) and my "fairy" godmother without wings, my Ninang Ebeng.  After greeting each other and establishing acquaintance, we prepared ourselves as the "official" tour now commenced.  Although this was my second time of going through the exhibit, I let Janet played the role of a guide to deferentially answer queries brought up by my Ninang and Glenda regarding the materials involved, estimated costs and other relevant matters relating to interior decoration.  Before halfway through of the 33rd floor, Luisa Salang together with her husband Jim met up with us as well as Ged's eldest brother Gerry (my billiards buddy) with his preggy wife Harriet who looked lovely in her "maong" maternity dress.  Rommel Torres joined us up on the 34th floor, looking a bit harried as he rummaged around for an actual comfort room (and not the ones in display) to relieve his bladder.

     Overall, it was like walking down a street inside a posh village of prominently rich and famous people. With the gates and front walls transparently clear for everyone to behold the luxury and opulence inside their homes. Yet most of the materials used for the design and decorations were indigenous enough to be afforded even by middle income families with a bit of common sense and lots of imagination in achieving the desired effect.  By the elevator lobby of the 34th floor, we rounded things up and decided on our next move-the gimmick in StreetLife where most Makati yuppies spend their Friday night away and indulge the early start of the weekend.  Ged, together with her family couldn't come with us and after saying our "good-byes" and "goodnights" to them, I told Janet and Rommel to wait for me by the parking exit of LKG Tower as Luisa, Jim and I made our way towards the open parking lot where we parked our respective vehicles.

     We are to make a small line of convoy towards Makati Shangri-La Hotel along Ayala corner Makati Avenue, then park in front of the Glorietta Building that houses StreetLife, TGIF and Hard Rock Café to join Joel, Me-Anne and Aileen who were also on their way to our rendezvous.  The short trip towards Glorietta from LKG Tower was pretty much uneventful.  Aside from the fact that I and perhaps Janet felt like VIPs to a certain extent since from time to time, our cars were being overtaken suddenly by Rommel who is on board his bright yellow scooter.  The only thing lacking is an alarm siren and a blinking/rotating light atop his flaming red helmet for him to effectively warn motorists ahead of our oncoming approach.  It only took us a while to reach the area and luckily, Janet and I were able to park near each other in a basement parking fronting the western section of the Glorietta building complex.  Rommel parked his scooter beside the building entrance securing it with a chain and padlock and used some of his charm to "bribe" the guard in looking after his scooter while we are inside enjoying the night away. But prior to our merriment, Louie sent Janet a text message informing us that she and her husband Jim won't be able to join us due to an emergency tactical meeting that Jim is being summoned to posthaste.

     Another undeniable indication of the criticality of the situation and the danger that looms during these difficult times.  Yet amid these fears and troublesome incertitude, we still intend to spend a night full of joviality amongst friends.  No matter how few we are as this will not be the measure of how happy we can be, just bear with me a bit more for the continuation of this story.

     Similar to LKG Tower, there is a short queue of people lining up by the entrance of Glorietta building as security guards fastidiously scrutinize every shoulder bag, purse, knapsack and satchel containing personal belongings for the mutual safety of everyone else.  After passing inspection and being waved through, the three of us (Janet, Rommel and me) went directly straight to the third floor via the escalators where the main entrance to StreetLife is conveniently located.  It is flanked by TGIF (Thank God It's Friday) to our right and Hard Rock Cafe by our left side.  Blaring sounds from a live band playing inside greeted us as we observed that most tables outside of StreetLife were already occupied. 

After weaving our way through and reaching the entrance, we were apologetically informed by management that they are hosting a company gathering of sorts that evening and that they can only start accommodating other patrons starting 12:00 o'clock midnight.  Much to our chagrin, we detachedly accepted being turned away and looked for a place to stay while we wait for the arrival of Me-Anne, Joel and Aileen.

     While thinking of alternative hangouts to go to, Me-Anne informed us that she's already in the area searching for an available parking spot, while Joel is already nearing Ayala Avenue and Aileen is woefully stuck in a traffic jam within the EDSA-Ortigas area.  We simply decided to linger by the third floor foyer and wait as we try to probe outside TGIF and Hard Rock Café, contemplating on where to go.  A few moments went by and Me-Anne surprised us by greeting the three of us from behind--the same approach I planned in greeting Janet at LKG Tower but wasn't successful in implementing due to Carmi Martin's intervention.  The four of us chose to explore the vicinity for a place to relax and sat by.  But upon reaching the second floor, the familiar rotund profile of Joel came into view, his face dotted with speckles of sweat from hurrying and carrying his customary large shoulder bag.  He even jokingly bragged that it took some time for the guards to let him through because of the three 3 cellular phones, communications wiring and other hi-tech gadgetry he is carrying inside his bag--the trademark personal effects of a "bomb expert" nowadays.  Fortunately, he is nowhere near the appearance and demeanor of a renegade Muslim leader, hehehe.

     After letting Joel catch his gasping breath, wiping off some sweat and gaining some semblance of composure, we collectively decided to go outside and merely enjoy salad and pizza at the California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) -- another new-sprung American restaurant within the Makati area akin to Tony Roma's and Seattle's Best Coffee. It is still found within the Glorietta building, the entrance of which is located outside.  Upon entering CPK, I couldn't help but feel as if I'm still within the confines of the PSID exhibit due to the artistic design and characteristically foreign aura that would welcome a Filipino customer not accustomed to such restaurants. We requested for a table upstairs adjacent to a window giving a pleasant view of the circular park below admiring its lighting embellishment and keeping an eye on all sorts of individuals going about their ways, walking leisurely towards their destination, unmindful of others, somehow oblivious of time.

     We gave the two ladies the privilege of choosing their seats first and naturally, they sat by the window for them to better appreciate the evening view. I sat beside Janet with Me-Anne in front of her, Rommel at Me-Anne's right fronting me and Joel at his right side.  We pored over CPK's menu deliberately, then the five of us agreed unanimously to simply ask for a Pepperoni Pizza and an order of Classic Caesar's Salad plus of course, the preferred drink of choice nowadays--Iced Tea--primarily because it's refillable and with two (2) flavors to choose from--raspberry or lemon.  Joel would have ordered San Mig Light had it been refillable too, but unfortunately for him, it was not.  So he merely went along with the ebb of tide.

     When the waiter was clearly out of earshot, Rommel unexpectedly delivered the first "salvo" by asking Me-Anne how many her kids already are, which instantaneously drew a fit of quite an uproarious laughter from the rest of us.  After realizing his blooper, by judging the way we chuckled at his question, Rommel defended himself in saying that he only assumed that Me-Anne is already happily married and enjoying family life, especially with a lady of her pulchritude.  To which, Me-Anne retorted that it would have been more flattering and "safe" had he mistaken a married woman for a maiden.  Understandably so, Rommel up to now, doesn't have access to our web site and group e-mail.  This, coupled with his being a "rookie" are reasons enough for his unfamiliarity of other member's current information.  But he doubtlessly learned right then and there how to "assume" more guardedly in the future!

     Janet obligingly regaled us of her "stories" of the future and the past.  Her aspirations once finishing her Interior Decoration course, her favorite teachers, high school buddies and high school memories that only she and Me-Anne can indeed relate to.  We just laughed along so we won't get lost in the conversation.  Then somewhere in our animated conversation, while relishing my slice of pizza and toying with my salad, they asked me of my inspirations (take note, plural) during my elementary and high school days, the so-called childhood sweethearts and puppy love.

     I narrated to them how Bobet and I would pay a visit to our dear elementary friends after being dismissed from Notre Dame during our high school days, clutching our Dad's attaché cases and wearing "baston" (complete with zippers at the hem) pants.  Our not-so-futile attempts (or were they?) of looking for and courting our respective "beloveds" using lines from famous songs during that time, an example of which is Rod Stewart's "Some Guys Have All the Luck". The line I used in a love letter?  Well, I've conveniently forgotten all about it and I am betting my bottom dollar (if I have any) that Me-Anne or Janet, including the two guys, Joel and Rommel, will not be able to recall the particular line I told them that night which I verbatimly copied and used in a love letter I sent to Jeng Santos during our third year in high school.  Didn't have much luck then, though, and I am likewise hoping that Jeng won't be able to recall it too, hehehe.

     And this is a little known fact (or is it only me who doesn't know?) that Joel had a long-standing crush during our elementary days to a very dear LCS Friend who is doing very well in New York right now.  Is it obvious that I am referring to you, Terit?  You know what Terit, I'm definitely glad you didn't fall for any of Joel's charms then.  How he inspiredly recited in front of the class while secretly glancing at his source of inspiration and all those other small details I missed.  Maybe because I dozed off after he recited his first two lines in front of the class.

     You might ask, what about Rommel's story?  Well, I am saving the best for last and this would surely be a tough act to follow.  A probable entry to the Guinness Book of Records as it really topped our list of fun moments that evening, not to mention the uncanny and bizarre things that one would do before graduating in elementary.  And how I really wished then that Jinky was present that night, para mabugahan ng Iced Tea si Rommel, undeliberately of course, while laughing!

     It came as a sort of a "confession" to us all that I believe Rommel would have told also had Jinky been around and she'd have consequently forgiven him, (probably?).  He told us hesitantly that he experienced his first unforgettable "kiss" (smacking lips-to-lips at that!) shortly before graduation in elementary.  It happened during one of our recess after a singing rehearsal inside the chapel, when Rommel bought Jinky a coke for refreshment (galante naman pala, kaso hindi pa yata uso ang straw noon). And when Jinky was abruptly called by someone, absent-mindedly leaving the coke behind, Rommel took the once-in-a-lifetime chance.  It was a spur-of-the-moment thing as he quickly grabbed the glistening, ice-cold bottle of soda with both hands and "kissed" it with all his might, finally reaching out, rendering an impossible dream into reality and ultimately quenching his thirst for unconditional love.  Isn't it romantic, as it truly reminds me of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.  We are not even sure if he is still holding on to that memorable bottle, hiding it some place safe, sealed with a kiss.

     After we eventually piped down our bursting laughter into manageable sneers and grins, (not because of the irksome looks from occupants of other tables, but because of too much gas in our stomachs), Janet and Me-Anne stood up to relieve themselves at the ladies' room. Yet a few steps away from our table, I hurriedly called them back and gave them their straws wrapped carefully in table napkins for fear that somebody might stash them away for good once our attention gets astray!

     In retrospect, it was a blessing in disguise that we were not able to go to StreetLife for we might not have the chance to talk lengthily about a lot of things.  A lot of stories--old and new--were exchanged that night.  Cheerfully reminiscing our childhood and teenage memoirs, bringing up events of the recent past, tips on how to get the most out of your "first love", even hints on how to effectively silence a "troublemaker" who's only intention is to sow intrigue in a group. How to fight "fire with fire" at times when "water" does not seem to be working reasonably.
 
     There were plenty more things and stories that already escaped my limited brain, recollection that took our mind off present worries and problems, including the bombing of buses that night as relayed to us by Ged and Aileen through text.  But wait!  What about Aileen?  Whatever happened to her?!  Had she not been sending text messages at irregular intervals, we'd have almost forgotten about Aileen who was still stranded helplessly along EDSA at way past 10 o'clock in the evening.  We gave her "A" for effort but "F" for failing to reach us in time. But we really appreciate her efforts despite struggling in a double midnight-madness-sale traffic jam that almost drove her mad.  Cursing the terrorists, not the shoppers and consoling herself in spending dinner in a hotdog joint, all by her lonesome inside a gas station.  We correspondingly advised her to simply go back home as we'll just be seeing each other the next time around.

     Shortly before 12 o'clock midnight, we deemed that the traffic has already abated somewhat and meekly decided to end our tete-a-tete.  To ensure her safety, we walked Me-Anne to her car as she was parked in another building and all of us boarded her car and bid our fare thee wells before alighting in front of Glorietta building to fetch our respective cars and scooter.  Joel rode with me and got off somewhere in EDSA-Shaw Boulevard, bidding him goodbye and to take care while the two ladies sent me a text message accordingly, upon their arrival home safely.

     Though there were only five of us to share that evening, the memories with our friends were with us all throughout giving bliss unending, bringing a warm-hearted smile well into our deep slumber, even some with soda bottle and straws by their bedside to remember...again, sealed with a kiss...