The following post was written last Friday while I made a trip uptown to visit an ailing friend.
I’m sitting here on the 42nd street stop of the D train waiting to get on one. (The B just passed.). I am on an adventure of sorts, trying to make my way to Fort Washington Ave to the NY Columbia Presbyterian Hospital to visit a friend.
As luck would have it, I had the opportunity to leave early today, but first, there was a belated birthday celebration I needed to pull together, and I was struggling printing a copy of a gift I wanted to give Kuya Jack. (D train is here)
Si Kuya Jack
I’ve known Kuya Jack since I arrived in New York in 2000. An older brother of one of Alan’s and my dear friend, Jackie, (Angelo’s Ninang Sexy), I had taken to calling him “Kuya” myself as a term of endearment, not having any Kuyas around. he was always funny and warm, ready with a joke, and to me, “tunay na jeproks“. (Those who are younger will not know the term, but bear with me.). He reminded me of Mike Hanopol, Joey “Pepe” Smith and the whole gang with his long hair and easy-going demeanor. He always made me feel welcome in family gatherings, so I sought him out and bussed him in the customary hi and hello greeting at parties and the like.
So when I heard he had been taken ill and was in the hospital, I made up my mind right there and then that I would make an effort to visit him and say hello. That was 2 weeks ago, if my memory serves me right. A lot of things had gotten in the way taking me this long to finally head down to where he was.
The Laughing Christ
I knew he probably was on a restricted diet so fruit was out of the question, and no matter how people say it’s the thought that count, I just thought flowers would not be appropriate for Kuya Jack. I thought I zeroed in on something I could give him but the problem was reproducing it because I was not about to part with my copy.
It must’ve been in the 80s when I found this print entitled “The Laughing Christ” in one of the stores in the original Virra Mall. I got a copy for myself and gifted one to one of my dearest friends, Gina, and she swears she still has her copy despite having moved houses since.
(Transferring to the A train)
I cannot remember now if I got to bring my copy to NY during one of the 5 trips I’ve taken home since, or I had asked my sister, Ofie, to send it to me, but my yellowed and definitely aged print has been stashed away all this time. I took it to the office and took a photo and altered the shot to produce a lighter and more vibrant print. Mine is now a dark brown tint, presumably from the adhesive surfacing to the print from its wood mounting. I decided to attempt printing it on canvas using an ink jet printer and my first 8 or so attempts were unsuccessful because the canvas sheet kept jamming on the paper path.
I gave up momentarily to do my surprise birthday cupcake celebration, and then I tried again. (Getting off and trying to find the exit.)
(Back on the A)
I figured the printer was having trouble grasping the canvas sheet, so a lightbulb lit up in my head and I taped some magic tape to the edge that “meets” the printer and it worked. I trimmed th 9×14 canvas sheet and let the fresh ink “breathe” as I noticed it had smudged where I touched it and some ink transferred to my fingertips.
Visiting with Kuya Jack, I handed him the print but sensed that he might not be able to see clearly. The nurses were fussing around him so I stepped back. When the guard was reduced to a single nurse, I sat down. I guess it must have been the medication. He was talking in English, Spanish, Tagalog and maybe his native Panggalatok. He was in restraints because he keptt trying to get out of the bed, and the nurse told me he had gotten belligerent punching a nurse. At least he has someone there with him 24/7 to tend to his medical needs.
An avid poker player, he was talking about cards and his money.. Then he said he was playing a game with some black men.. And how he was going to have the enemy killed. Being the funny guy he’s always been, I didn’t know if it was the meds or his funny bone emerging in all the haze of the pain and painkillers.
He seems to have shrunk a little — perhaps it was because he was in bed and not standing tall next to me. Finally, it was time to say goodbye. I edged closer and touched his hand and he recoiled, admonishing me not to touch the part where his IV needles left tender spots in his pokerfaced comedian stance.
(Back on the D to Midtown)
Walkng away from the hospital, I remembered Dad yet again. A sadness crept upon me, I remembered my friend, Kuya Jack’s sister. I sent her a text message and told her I just left and gave kuya a print of the Laughing Christ, although I he probably couldn’t see it, and how we chatted although I doubt he’d remember it was me. I told her to be strong. I wanted to tell her she is lucky she is here by his side while I think about my Dad 10,000 miles away.
I thought about their 70-something Mom. Having been a registered nurse herself, it must be doubly painful for her to be so in touch with all that is happening to one of her precious children. Kuya Jack whose humor and good cheer not only infected everyone, but whose generosity helped another sibling battle a failing kidney when he donated one of his own 15 years ago.
I know I’m not supposed to say “Get well soon” knowing his is a journey and not just a single treatment. I told him to be strong and to follow his doctor’s orders so that they may send him home. It didn’t matter that he probably didn’t see me or recognize me — it was enough that I was there to say hello, in the midst of all that was happening to him.