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.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Bleachers' Brew #352 A Christmas Story

This appears in the Wednesday, December 26, 2012 edition of the Business Mirror.

A Christmas Story
by rick olivares

I stepped out into the cold, wrapped the scarf around my neck a little tighter, and then tucked by hands into my coat pockets. I was barely out of the house and I immediately regretted getting up from bed and going out. But that is how it is when you have work. The snow was thick and with every step I took I felt my socks get a little soggy. The bus stop along JFK Boulevard was just a stone’s throw from where I lived in Jersey City. Normally, I’d have to wait for about 10 minutes for a next bus to take me to New York. But on Christmas Eve with heavy snow, the buses were behind schedule.

I was freezing and the seemingly interminable wait made it worse. God, I could catch my death of cold here, I said to myself. Frostbite even. Finally a bus arrived although it wasn’t the regular one. At least it would get me to Journal Square where I could to take the PATH train to Manhattan.

I had been away for a year now. Living in the United States as part of a self-imposed exile after my marriage had crumbled. I worked for a real estate company but in a post-9/11 world, America was mired in recession. To make ends meet, I pulled in two other shifts by working in a restaurant along Fifth Avenue and as a coat checker at the Trump Tower further down the street.

As the calendar hit the ‘Ber” months, I began to spend my evenings with some friends from Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, holed up in an apartment in Queens that we called “The Lonely Hearts Club”. We were all expatriates far from home and family trying to take a bite out of the Big Apple and the American Dream. When we could we’d watch the Knicks and the Giants (save for the Latins, most were not baseball fans), sip coffee and gab about dreams, wishes, and goals. Most of my friends had been here in America for awhile although time had not exactly dulled the yearning for family. They knew I had it tough and they’d do their best to cheer me up.

It was close to a year for me and although I had adjusted to life alone I had to resort to working as many as three jobs every day so I wouldn’t have to deal with the loneliness afterwards. I’d oft go home late. If I got out early, if I could afford it, I would watch the Yankees play so when I’d get home, I’d fall asleep almost immediately after I lay on my bed.

When I had free time, I’d write about my life in the US. On other days, I’d hang out at Central Park where I’d write some more or play some flag football, soccer or just watch the world pass me by.

The money I earned was pretty good but I was at a stage when I preferred to save than spend. The one thing I wanted at that time was a New York Yankees jersey of shortstop Derek Jeter. It was kind of pricey even in the off-season at it fetched for a $100. I’d oft look at it at Modell’s along 42nd Street but a cousin of mine who I also hung out with would say, “Just continue to save. Derek Jeter’s jersey isn’t going anywhere as he will be in New York forever.”

From Port Authority, I trudged along my customary route through 42nd Street to Rockefeller Plaza where I dropped by the crowds outside the NBC Studios to wave to the cast of the Today Show. I had a sign with me that day that I unfurled for the cameras. The sign was for my kids and that I missed them. I remember Al Roker giving me a big grin when I held up my sign.

At the corner of the street was a couple; the woman was Filipina while her companion, American. They had a sign that read: “Merry Christmas! We hope you can spare some change because we are hungry and homeless.” I fished for a $20 bill that I placed in the hands of the woman. Her eyes watered. I knew that a lot of people were hard up. With the economy in bad shape, many people were out of work or even homeless. I simply nodded and quickly turned not wanting to see her cry. Imagine that. A fellow Filipino in difficult times begging along posh Fifth Avenue in the United States.

The restaurant (I worked at Burger Heaven that is similar to Friday’s or Chili’s) was busy; filled with the hungry taking time from last minute shopping. It had taken me awhile to get used to working as a waiter in a restaurant. I didn’t go to school to do this. But when the economy was bad and the office cutting down on staff, you did what you had to do to survive. Waiting on tables doesn’t take skill. It takes an inordinate amount of patience and a large supply of smiles because anything that is customer service-oriented can be very trying. The rewards run the gamut of highs and lows many times over in a single shift. You see, a New York waiter lives on tips to augment a measly base salary. Unfortunately, not everyone leaves a tip and you grumble rather loudly when they don’t. And there’s the matter of rudeness that one has to deal with in the big city.

My Christmas Eve shift was really good for me but I was exhausted beyond belief. I sauntered over to St. Patrick’s Cathedral to listen to a choir sing Christmas carols. Then I had to hightail it over to the Trump Tower where I had one last three-hour shift before my day was done. I worked at a restaurant there where I took the coats of diners then hung it on a rack. After their meals, I gave them back and delighted in a sizeable tip since these customers were the well-heeled types.

I checked out of my shift and called my friend’s place in Queens where we held our regular Lonely Hearts Club get-togethers. No answer. I called and texted a few others and got no answer or reply either. I guess they’re all out celebrating I thought. I felt a little sad and even lonelier and decided to just go home.

I caught my bus back to Jersey and was lost in thought that sometimes is all I ever did. The corner store at Clinton Avenue was still open and I purchased some phone cards so I could call my kids back home. The nearby Filipino stores along West Side Avenue were closed for Noche Buena and I had to make do with a large can of Campbell’s soup at the nearby 7-11 and some ham that I got from the restaurant where I worked.

The snow that earlier clogged the roads had been cleared somewhat but there was a light snowfall. I tugged my coat closer and felt the hunger pangs and tiredness in my limbs. When I got to the gate of my apartment along Clinton Avenue, the door was ajar. My adrenaline shot up and I wondered if I had been burglarized. But surely my neighbors would have noticed. I had two cops for neighbors. There was a mugging the other night in the street next to mine and the neighborhood was a little more vigilant. I was ready to knock on my cop neighbors’ door when I heard some laughter coming from inside my apartment.

For good measure, I picked up a stick that I hid nearby in the event I got chased by a mugger (yes, I was always ready for such and carried mace and a retractable night stick with me). I entered cautiously prepared for the worst (despite the laughter that emanated from within). Yet there were my friends from the Lonely Hearts Club. Everyone of them. Including my neighborhood cops. A smile broke out on my face and felt hot tears stream down my cheeks. “Merry Christmas,” led Sam, a friend from Egypt. He handed over a gift that he said everyone in the club chipped in for. “Open it,” he motioned and I obliged. Inside was the Derek Jeter jersey that I had looked at for the past eight months.

Then Joe, one of the cops, handed over the portable phone to me and said, “It’s for you.” My kids were on the opposite end and the tears flowed. The merriment and singing continued until the wee hours of the Christmas morn.

The other day, on my way home from work. I bought a few gifts for family and friends first at Greenhills and Gateway in Cubao. As is my custom when in Cubao, I pass by the Booksale store near the bus terminal at Cubao. Outside the store, I saw a kid looking at a comic book on the window. His mother, who stood next to him smiled and hugged him. Obviously they did not have the money for it as the mother held the palm of her hand out begging for help. I went inside, purchased the comic book, and handed over a couple of sandwiches I bought at Gateway (and a little money). Their smiles and tears said it all.

By some chance, that brought me back to that first Christmas while living in the United States where a simple act of kindness can go a long long way. It’s always good to spread the holiday cheer.

Merry Christmas!

Me at Burger Heaven in 5th Avenue and E49th (above) with Tats, who worked with me on my shift. Below, the Lonely Hearts Club of Queens celebrating Christmas.


  1. great heartwarming story sir... can i share/link to my fb account? its worth sharing...

  2. God bless you, Rick. Merry Christmas!

    1. Hi Carlo! Thank you so much and God bless. see you soon whether at an Ateneo football match, the AFL or the UAAP.

  3. very nice and touching story Rick. I have been through hard and lonely times too, but hey, we made it through the rain right? :)

    thank you for sharing a part of your life. Much respect to you. Merry Christmas fellow Filipino. Mabuhay ka!

    1. Thanks, Grayson! God bless, man. Hope all is good.