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Melay Lapena

Places are not people

October 26, 2010 11:47am
A few nights ago I was walking along Katipunan and just before I reached Rustan's Supermarket I saw Magnet Gallery, no longer Magnet Cafe. Gone were the coveted seats at the smoking area, where little kids would hang around begging for coins as long as there were people. Gone, too, was the sign that would announce the events for every night - Happy Mondays Poetry Night twice a month, and OMG hosted by Vim Nadera once a month.

Almost every band in Metro Manila has found its name on that sign, at least once. Magnet is memorable for many reasons - the bathroom walls that suggest suicide, the overpriced beer that prompts college kids to get sufficiently buzzed elsewhere before heading over, the surprisingly delicious Fried Kesong Puti. One summer the second floor disappeared beneath layers of white sand, and guests shuffled about with bemused expressions.

Before Happy Mondays, I would rarely find myself at Magnet, but I remember those visits fondly. Once, I was there on a supposed date. I had a green mango shake and we were supposed to go to the Bellarmine field, but we didn't, so all I really remember from that date was the taste of that green mango shake and the traffic rushing by outside.

Another time, there was a gig and it was over. The waiters were packing up but the musicians from different bands had taken their instruments out again and they were playing the blues. I can't remember what it sounded like, but I remember the feeling.

All of a sudden, I feel really sad about Magnet not being there anymore. I know it's just a place, but places are like people, too. You get acquainted, and every time you see each other again, something's changed. You notice new things. Some things you like, others you don't. But you still keep coming back, because some places, like good friends, just let you be.

Missing Magnet reminded me of other places I wish were still around. Sanctum Unmasct in Intramuros, an absolutely lovely place with couches everywhere and popsicle sticks instead of stubs for the free drink. Despite the stone chamber walls and iron wrought doors, inside was a place of freedom. I remember wrapping my hands around my salabat, mesmerized by the stained glass windows, completely in awe of the Spoken Word Slams. I was in high school, but I would go there as often as I could manage.

Mayric's along Espana is another place I miss. I would go way too early, because I didn't want to be commuting late. I would attend Buzznights, almost always alone because I didn't know anyone else who wanted to watch Popular Days or Candyaudioline or Soft Pillow Kisses or Daydream Cycle - all local bands, and I promise you, much much better than the songs you hear five times a day on the radio. I miss the calendar posted by the door, and how it was always full.

I know Mayric's is still there, sort of, except now it's name is Sazi's, but for some reason I can't bring myself to go there. I suspect that if I do, I'll just feel really nostalgic, or just old.

There's 6 Underground which was really underground, at the basement of a building along Palanca Street. Predictably, Sneaker Pimps lyrics
covered the walls. It was dim and smoking wasn't allowed inside, so all the smokers would sit in a box-shaped area outside, poisoning their lungs together. I once saw a guy passed out there, his friends arguing about what it was that did it. Someone insisted that he was mixing drinks, someone else said it was the drugs. I realized I was staring, so I offered my tissue paper.

6 Underground has moved to Pearl Drive in Ortigas, and it's now on the second floor. It's also changed it's name to 6UG, and while I'm a fan of brevity, I feel a bit betrayed. I'm pretty sure Sneaker Pimps would, too.

I know it's silly to feel betrayed by a place that didn't really do anything other than grow, but I can't help it. I had memories there, crossed paths with old friends and made new ones. I'd heard poetry that changed my life and music that changed me. If I step back, I could say that the place was just a detail, a backdrop, the where and not the what or how or why.

But that isn't completely true either. Places have character, and that's why Dorothy was right when she said there's no place like home.

Still, places are where and not who. Everyone's here, Joel Toledo told me last month at Carljoe Javier's book launch of The Kobayashi Maru of Love. It was at this place called Ilyong's, somewhere I had neither heard of much less been to before that night. I looked around and saw that he was right. Everywhere was a familiar face. At the time, Magnet had just closed and everyone was wondering where to go next.

I miss knowing where I'll be on Monday nights, and this might be funny but I really miss the Fried Kesong Puti. I miss the narrow stairs and the waiters who were always pleasant, and the window behind the stage that let you know if it was raining outside.

Of course, there are lots of other places to go to, places with character, places that feel like friends. I try not to think about them too much because more likely than not they'll be gone eventually. I can't keep places, but I can keep the friends I've made along the way, and of course, the enemies, too.
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