Autumn finally was upon San Francisco. Gloomy lonely clouds melted away and a small glimpse of the sun finally appeared. Keep in mind that this is San Francisco so any time the sun appears is good news. More people started to take walks to show off their expensive J Crew jackets down Market Street and taxi cabs complained about lagging business...until night time of course. Cafe Flore was bustling as ever and the bright rainbow colors of gay men in tank tops, muscle shirts, and loose vintage jackets decorated the cafe as they chugged down hot chais and hot lattes while giving each other heated looks. Autumn was indeed mating season in the Castro.
Martin Ventura was yacking on his phone again and he was more flippant bakla than ever. He sashayed down the street in designer Dockers that he could barely afford and a baby blue tank top with white stripes across it. His smooth, dark brown coconut skin moved like melted milk chocolate. At first glance this guy would definitely be eye candy. Until he opened his mouth, of course.
"Okay, so he did that?" An eavesdropper could catch small bits of Martin's conversation with another one of his drama queen friends. Martin's strong yet stingy Illocano accent was also loud enough that one could hear from a two-block radius. "No...wait a minute, didn't he have a boyfriend?" Martin paused to toss his head back. "Oh, no you're talking about that guy. Yeah he's trampy. Stay away from him." Martin arrived at his destination, Cafe Flore.
Martin sashayed his way into the crowded cafe. The familiar smells of foreign coffee beans mixed with men's cologne. "What can I get for you?" an attractive German cashier with silky brown hair and piercing black eyes smiled at Martin.
"I'll have a cafe latte with soy milk and wala sugar," Martin grinned.
"Soy milk?!" Barry grumbled as he clutched a grande triple shot espresso. "Gawd honey, you're eating just like a lesbian."
"Soy milk is like the brand new water," Martin grinned as he took his own coffee cup. "Girl, get with the program!"
"And that would be The L-Word," Barry groaned.
They walked back to the table where Ryan, Devin and Tyler were busy talking about work over their quick lunch break. Devin had spiked his hair today and his blonde curls became soft golden spikes on his head.
"So anyways," Ryan was finishing his comment. "Ranko is getting really excited about the wedding and her big brother from Japan is traveling down here."
"Is he hot?" Tyler looked up hopefully and further wrapped his warm neck in the wine-red Hugo Boss scarf he wore.
"He's married," Ryan glared at Tyler. "His wife is supposed to come down too!"
"Well it was worth asking," Tyler meekly replied. "At least I could have gotten some international action."
"You know, can we just have one conversation that does not involve sleeping with men," Barry grumbled.
"O-mi-god!" Martin looked like he had a heart attack as his eyes boggled. Martin leaped across the table nearly spilling Barry's cup of coffee. "Gu-wapo alert!"
Martin motioned to the veranda Outside walked a strapping young Asian man with in a tight-fitting blood red muscle shirt and form-fitting Levis. He was listening to a silver iPod located conveniently right next to his cotton-covered muscular thighs. "Eh, he's okay," Devin sighed.
"Excuse me," Martin stood up looking miffed. "You are insulting my new husband!!!"
"You've had five husbands already!" Devin snapped angrily.
"So?!" Martin snapped. "They don't know each other."
Ryan rolled his eyes. "I'm going back to work." He picked up his coffee mug and bag full of brownies. " I'll see you guys later."
"All these young gaybies!" Barry grumbled. "It's about 45 degrees outside and they are still wearing tanktops. Speaking of your husband, did you happen to notice all the goosebumps on his skin? First it was AIDS, now it's gonna be pneumonia that kills the gay population!"
Perfect timing for Ryoga Hibiki to walk in. Ryoga was wearing a black muscle shirt and blue jeans. His neat black hair was now up in a black bandana.
"So why aren't you freezing cold?" Tyler said cooly.
"Well," Ryoga smiled. "I just came back from working out. Guess who's the new kempo instructor at Gold's Gym!"
"Omigod, that is so fabulous!" Tyler said over-flamboyantly and gave Ryoga a humongous hug. This gave Martin enough time to scope Ryoga's sculpted ass. "I'm so happy for you!"
"Two jobs," Barry humphed. "That must be difficult."
"Well, I'm doing it voluntarily," Ryoga said. "I think it was about time that I did some martial arts again. I feel like I'm losing my zone."
"Way to go," Barry said. "Way to go."
At that moment, Martin's cute pink cell phone vibrated. "Hoooooyyy?"* Martin let out his familiar greeting out in his shrill Filipino accent.
"Kamusta ka baby!" an even more flamboyant and louder female voice responded. "Oh, hi mom!" Martin stuttered embarassingly. The other guys snickered into their drinks. "Oh shut up, naman!" Martin snapped.
"Martina," the extremely flamboyant female voice sang. "Are you going to tonight's fiesta? Papa and I want to see you again."
"Opo mom," Martin said. "Can't wait."
"I'm making your favorite dish," the Ms. Ventura continued. "Fried bananas in white sauce." Unfortunately, Ms. Ventura was also just as loud as her husband so just about everyone in the cafe could hear her voice. Martin looked like he wanted to hide in the nearby closet.
"Dinner with the fam, eh Martina?" Barry said. "Better suck those bananas dry."
"Whatever!" Martin rolled his eyes. "My mom and dad just miss me and want to get me really fat, that's all. And don't call me Martina! I'm not that bakla."
"Then stop acting like one," Barry grumbled. "You give the word gay a horrible name."
"Excuse me," Ryoga said meekly. "But what is bakla?"
"It's the word for gay in Tagalog," Martin replied.
"It means feminine in Tagalog," Barry snapped. "After hanging around with all these Asian queens you pick up a thing or two."
"Oh lighten up Barry!" Tyler snapped. "Just because Martin's not as stereotypically masculine like you and doesn't scratch his ass all day."
Devin looked like he wanted to duck from the incoming nuclear bomb a.k.a. the growing redness on Martin's face. "Well at least my parents are still talking to me," Martin snapped as-a-matter-of-factly. He knew where to hit Barry where it hurt. Barry was completely speechless. So was Tyler. If only Ryan were here, he would provide intermission. Fortunately Ryoga decided jump in between and write out a peace treaty. "So, what time is this dinner?" Ryoga choked.
"Six o'clock," Martin said, glaring at Barry. Barry glared back and shot more icy warfare at Martin. "It's an extended family dinner because dad's back from Boston."
"Congratulations on your class, Ryoga," Martin said in a feigned perkiness to Ryoga. "I'll call you guys later tonight if you all want to go to Earth tomorrow where all the queens hang out." He especially looked at Barry with daggers in his eyes.
Margaret Ventura was a pleasant and slightly plump 55-year-old woman. After bearing five children including Martin, Margaret was still an extremely strong woman. She had a pleasant chubby light brown face. Her hair was tied back in a bun, showing small specks of gray. She wore a flowery green dress, which hugged her in the right places.
“Hurry up!” Margaret said jovially after hugging her son. “You must eat! Those people in San Francisco don’t let you eat! That’s why supermodels go to the city so they can be skinny like that Sarah Jessica-Parker girl from Sex and the City!”
It was indeed a fiesta. Martin’s eyes widened at the table of food his mother laid out in the garden. He also noted that he would probably need to stay two hours at Gold’s Gym in the Castro in order to work out whatever his mom stuffed into him. Martin grabbed a plate and started scooping everything on the tray and topped it off with two large heaps of rice.
Martin pondered which of his many cousins, uncles, and kuyas he should start talking to. Among all the dark brown skin, he stood out. As Martin walked down the steps, of his parents’ backyard, he saw an extremely attractive Asian guy who made “Mr. Guwapo-Alert” look like yesterday’s news. Martin didn’t know what really drew him to the guy. His softly spiked black hair, his deep black eyes, and his sharp jawline. He took one look at Martin and smiled, or smirked, baring his pearly white teeth in tensely closed lips. Why would such an attractive young Chinese guy be at this party full of loudmouth pinoys?
“You must be Martin,” the guy looked up from munching on a lumpia shanghai. He had a cute Taiwanese accent, which meant he had a soft, but adorable, lisp.
He knows my name and I know nothing about him. Must be one of my cousin’s new boyfriends. “Well, I guess I have a reputation,” Martin smiled.
“I’m Luke Fong,” the studly Chinese guy approached Martin. “I’m pleased to meet you.”
“So which of my unfortunate loudmouth ates are you dating?” Martin smiled. “As loud as they are, they certainly have good taste.”
“Actually, I’m single,” Luke said bashfully. “Your dad met me in Boston at the convention so he invited me back here.”
“Ah you’ve met Luke,” Martin’s father Vincent Ventura walked toward the two of them. Vincent, although age and time had caused an outlandish amount of wrinkles and white hair, was still an attractive man. His soft black eyes squinted through small wrinkles. Despite his age, Vincent was still extremely fit and his see-through barong revealed an extremely muscular Filipino body. “Isn’t he definitely your type, Martin, eh?”
Luke looked down bashfully. Luke is gay!
And Martin was furious. He felt like he had just walked into a gigantic beartrap sprung by his parents once again. "Come on Martina, help me lay out the pancit," Margaret fidgeted and took her son hand-in-hand into the kitchen.
Hell broke loose in the kitchen of Margaret Ventura almost every day. Margaret loved to cook and threw humongous fiestas. But this was a different kind of hell. For Martin. Margaret started to squeeze the lemon into the warm noodles drizzled with soft-boiled egg and shrimp. "Your father likes actually likes Luke," she quickly snapped. "And he came from Harvard University and works for your father’s company!"
Martin stirred the peanut-ox stew in a furiously boiling pot. "So this was a set-up."
"Martina, you're 28 year old," Margaret said. "Your cousin Jenny already has two children. I want to be an abuela someday and have beautiful adopted children."
"That's because tita Jenny's a puta and got knocked up by that good for nothing lalaki Jordan!" Martin snapped fuariously. "And don't call me Martina, it's Martin!"
"You baklas are all alike," Margaret tried to look cheerful. "I just want what's best for you." She drew a spoon into the bubbling light brown broth and brought it to Martin's lips. "Taste."
"It needs salt," Martin wet his lips and took the neaby saltshaker and started tossing salt into the pot. “And why are us baklas alike?”
“Martina, where did we go wrong?” Margaret lauded. “Ever since I saw you take interest in your sister’s Barbies I knew you were bakla. But bakla sa Pilipines are loyal to their family. But these American gays are all just self-centered and egotistical. And don’t tell me that I’m wrong because I watch Sex and the City. All you gays just think about yourselves and not about what your family want for you.”
“Then what do you want?!” Martin slammed the spoon on the pot.
“I want you to get married to a decent young man and have many children,” Margaret pleaded. “And if you ever want the operation…”
“Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I want to be a woman!” Martin fired back. “And that doesn’t mean that I want to be with a man who is supposed to be more husky than me! I want to be a man I’m in love with.”
“Clearly, you’re not good at deciding because I’m still not an abuela yet,” Margaret haughtily said.
And that was it. “Probably because I have to turn down all the potential bachelors I know because they keep sniffing your ass,” Martin retorted disrespectfully. “It was nice seeing you again, mom.”
As Martin started the car, his father ran out. "Martina, you come back here and apologize to your mother!" Vincent called angrily as Martin stamped out of the house furiously.
The weekend weather was gloomy like a normal autumn day in San Francisco. At Café Flore the mood was a little bit gloomier. After Martin had lauded descriptively and emotionally about his experiences, the guys just felt…numb. Martin’s emotions and frustrations had succeeded in scaring the large number of flirtatious customers. A ceiling fan hovered as the group sat quietly and pensively. Tyler’s eyes were as wide as dishes. Devin looked furious. Barry tried to look away at the walking pedestrians. Ryoga poured some more sugar into his coffee cup. Ryan’s face was just shock. Martin just sat with his arms folded.
“I’m sorry,” Barry finally said. The others looked at him like a meteorite hit the planet. Barry apologizing for something was not something that they were used to.
“So I’m not talking to my parents for a while,” Martin grumbled. “Well, fuck that shit. I need a cigarette.”
“You can use my lighter,” Devin said meekly.
“Naw,” Martin said. “I just need to take a walk.”
Martin stepped out of Café Flore. He started to fumble for matches in his pocket when he noticed a tall shadow approach him. It was Luke. He looked more attractive in a knit-red sweater and warm black cashmere scarf. Luke also wore a rainbow chain around his neck.
"Oh great, is my mother tracking me now?" Martin said angrily.
"No," Luke looked down shyly. "I didn't ask your parents anything. A friend told me that this is a great place to find gay Asian guys. So I thought you might be here too...as a great gay Asian guy."
Luke's awkwardness was adorable. Martin adjusted the bandana on his head. "Well, congratulations. I'll show you my sparkly rainbow green card if you want to."
"Hey," Luke said in his quiet garbled voice. "I do want to see you again...without your parents pushing you." He gave Martin his business card. "My cell phone number's on the back." Luke then gave Martin a swift peck on the cheek. "Well, I've gotta go but call me...if you have the time."
Martin placed the business card in the pocket of his jean jacket. Closest to his heart.
There are a lot of Tagalog words in this chapter so pay attention. “Wala” means “without” so “wala sugar” means without sugar. “Guwapo” means handsome, hence “Guwapo alert.” This is actually Martin’s catchphrase so be warned that it will appear again. “Hoy” is a colloquial greeting. The definition for bakla is indeed what the description of it is- a two-spirited person who is also partially female. “Kuya” is brother but is used generally in this chapter to refer to siblings. Martin is making two things in the kitchen- the noodle dish pancit and peanut-stew kare-kare which are both reminiscent of the Filipino culture I was raised in.
There is a real guy that I know who I fashioned the character of Luke from, but that is pretty personal.