Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Bleachers' Brew #87 Words of Hope

(This appears in my Bleachers' Brew column in today's -- December 24, 2007 issue of the Business Mirror that's also available online.)

At the corner of 20th Avenue and P. Tuazon in Project 4, Quezon City is a waiting shed. Only no one ever waits at the shed. For some strange reason, people choose to wait for cabs and jeepneys on the street. They remind me of those people who pay a couple of hundred bucks to get a seat during a UAAP basketball match but end up standing all throughout.

The shed is inhabited by two people. Mang Lando who has a makeshift newsstand and who packs up at 6pm and Mang Benjie who lives there. Yes, he lives there if you can call having one chair and a box of a few precious belongings home. Like the barber shop just a few feet away, it’s a place for banter and small talk. Sports talk.

Over the last few months since I moved to a small apartment nearby, I always get my daily newspaper fare there and after introducing myself a columnist for the BUSINESS MIRROR so they get to know who I am I’ve become rather unwittingly a “celebrity” of sorts in the small area. That is if one can actually equate a writer with being a celebrity. Every time I purchase my newspaper we chat for a bit about the previous day’s sports news and on topics ranging from why controversy and scandal aren’t too far away every the country sends a delegation for an international competition to postulating theories on why the PBA doesn’t matter much anymore. It’s Hard Ball or In the Zone except that the views are literally from the man on the street and those who watch this beat. Yes, even the cops stationed at the intersection who once in awhile join the “discussions.”

When I first moved to the area three months ago, Mang Benjie seemed still a little spry in his steps but of late I noticed that what I am instead witnessing is the slow deconstruction of a homeless man. He walks slowly now when crossing from the gas station across the street where he washes up. He may be homeless and hungry but he does what he can to feel like a human being. But there’s only so much a bar of soap and water can do. Nowadays he looks even more haggard and destitute and his eyes even more sullen. No doubt due to the lack of hope of his struggle for day to day subsistence.

But he still gets up for the daily discussion of sports news at the corner. Like a lot of people, he chooses not to read the headline news but instead goes straight to the sports news. “I may be poor, but I know that what our politicians are doing is hurting the country. They are creating more people like me. So I go to the sports section where it is all about achievement,” he says in the vernacular. “I may not understand most of the fancy writers who use big words, but I ask the people from the nearby botica what these words mean. Sports can lift your spirits. Especially when you’re up against seemingly insurmountable odds.”

Before, I would from time to time bring him food and watch from afar as he ate. The food isn’t much but I certainly understand that even a little goes a long long way when you have none.

Mang Benjie might be invisible to most of the people who pass by on their way to and from the daily grind, but the bystanders become aware of him when he lights up and sees the only “celebrity” he knows. Yes, it’s embarrassing. It’s not like I have a movie that’s making a killing at the tills. Every time he sees me he asks if I’ve written anything that day. If there is, he’ll ask Mang Lando to show it to him and he’d try to read it and let everyone within earshot know that – ahem – the writer is in his house. He tells everyone that I’ve met everyone from Pacman to Bata and Django to Kobe to Kareem to Ronaldinho to name a few. That’s not exactly true. While I’ve met and become friends with few of the athletes I’m not even “royalty” unlike some our more established friends from the print and broadcast media. Some of the athletes might possibly remember me or my name but the vast majority I would presume would not. And awhile I deliberately missed those morning chats because I didn’t want to call attention to myself. Little did I know that I wasn’t helping Mang Benjie.

I saw him the other day crossing the road and a car behind him was honking loudly to tell him to double time his ass off the road. I ran to the side of the car and jabbed a menacing finger towards the unmindful driver. I thought I was in for a fight, but he backed off and drove on without further incident. I thought I scared him off but when I looked behind me, the other beat cops were there… watching over Mang Benjie. Watching my back.

Mang Benjie’s eyes lit up when he saw what I did and that I brought some food for him. I stayed at a nearby water filling station and watched him as he ate. Apparently, he really missed that sports talk with me and the other tambays sa kanto.

Sometimes I forget that I am in a profession that not only reports the news and sports events, but where we have to be responsible in what we write. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything in the newspaper for the heck of it or even the money because it sure as hell doesn’t pay well. I write to inform and to document as well as to give praise and damn. But when I can, it’s to offer hope and document human achievement.

Now I have to think of what we’ll discuss on Christmas morning.

Merry Christmas to the readers of BLEACHERSBREW and BUSINESS MIRROR.

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