Ginny, the Jukebox, and Nat

I don’t know how she came to me the other day. It must have been hearing Nat King Cole again, triggering long dormant memories. Was it because I’m nearing seventy? Or was it just long, pent-up nostalgia for simpler times? Perhaps I was seeking a break from the cacophonous din of today’s political babble? Or from the hip-hop, rap and other phony beats that attempt to pass for “music” today?

The “she” was an older neighbor of ours from my childhood days. I knew her then simply as Ginny.

 The opening lines of “ Stardust. ”

The opening lines of “Stardust.

As a kid growing up in suburban San Juan del Monte, Rizal, in the 1950s, we lived across the old Municipio on N. Domingo Street, the town’s main thoroughfare. It was in an apartment building (#72 N. Domingo), which had my mother’s clinic and botica (pharmacy) on the ground floor; living and sleeping quarters were behind and upstairs. To our right was a similar building but with a bar on the street level.

(I learned years later that my mother and three of her sisters, had lived at #72 even before and during World War II. The wooden building was owned by a pair of Lichauco sisters; but somehow, it and the quiet environs of San Juan had escaped the horrors of Liberation, which flattened much of Manila.)

I forget now what the bar/tavern next door was called, or if it even had a name (Pacing’s?). Our botica, on the other hand, was called Petite Drugstore, which mom named after my father, Pete or Pedro. Of the bar next door, all I remember is that it served liquor, and thus, was off-limits territory to me, who was barely ten. There was a jukebox, at least two pinball machines and a pool table; hence, all the ingredients to qualify as a “den of iniquity.”

However, because I was the first postwar kid on our block of N. Domingo, I was sort of the “apple-of-the-eye” of the adult women who populated my little world. Our botica staffers, the Lichauco sisters (one of whom became my godmother), the ladies in the bar, my aunts, and of course, my mother —all doted on me for a few years (or until my younger brothers came along).

The two ladies who ran the bar, one of whom was Ginny, were friendly enough and would come over to the botica and hang out with my people (the pharmacists) when business was slow in their joint. Of course, it helped smooth things over that Ginny’s younger sister, Pacita, who tended the sideline barbeque counter business at the bar, would slip me an occasional barbeque skewer. That’s how a young Del Monte Ketchup-purist lad lost his innocence to Mafran (sauce).

There was a whole array of strange noises emanating from the bar: the “breaking” of the billiard balls on the pool table for one; the occasional drunken brawl for another; the whizzing, jingle-ping sounds of pinball machines, being humped by losers, still another. But easily the most lingering aural memory I have of that time was the constant and often intrusive blasting of the jukebox—even into the odd hours of the night. This was before air-conditioning could insulate our habitat from such ambient noise.

 It was a “music-devil-box” like this that spewed forth both pleasant and loud music. I remember it as a Wurlitzer.

It was a “music-devil-box” like this that spewed forth both pleasant and loud music. I remember it as a Wurlitzer.

From our second-floor bedrooms, we could hear Nat King Cole singing Stardust over and over again. That song as I learned later, is one of the standards of the Great American Song Book.

It is not an easy song to wrap one’s head or aesthetic sensibilities around on early hearings, much less to a young person’s ears. Stardust defies most “standard song” conventions. There are numerous, almost ambush-like tempo changes. The lyrics, the meter, unless one is a natural born poet, are poetry of a different order. It was not your typical Annabelle Lee or Joyce Kilmer. It’s even been referred to as a meta-melody (whatever that means). Take the opening quatrain:

And now the purple dusk of twilight time
Steals across the meadows of my heart
High up in the sky, the little stars climb
Always reminding me that we’re apart©
1

1 Copyright 1929 (Renewed 1957), Mils Music, Inc. Lyrics by Mitchell Parish; music by Hoagy Carmichael.

How does a normal eight- or nine-year-old comprehend, nay, process, that? I hadn’t yet encountered Shakespeare or Walt Whitman, but its meter, its cadence . . . are ineffable. It was only in later years that I learned to appreciate the inscrutable beauty of the piece.

And when I discovered that it was co-written by someone named Hoagy Carmichael, well then, who was I to question the ruling order of the universe?

Anyway, the source of the often too-loud sounds was this jukebox. The sometimes infernal machine had two volume settings: Extra-Loud and Muted-Soft. And the person we sort of held responsible for overly loud evenings was Ginny, the proprietress of the establishment. My dad would let Ginny and Pacita know in no uncertain terms when the playing got to be too much.

A few years later when I turned 14 (in 1962), we moved to a quieter, more residential part of San Juan. For the most part, I thought that Ginny and her bar were behind me. However, Ginny kept on close terms with my mom and aunt Ines (who became a godmother to one of Ginny’s daughters later on), so she would come over to the new place once in a while to visit, even for a game of mahjong.

Snake-Eyes on a Sunday Afternoon

I remember one Sunday afternoon particularly when my parents, my grandmother and Ginny made a mahjong quorum on the terrace. I was just learning the game, thus was a kibitzer (or miron) on the side.

All of a sudden, in the middle of play, Ginny just bolted up and sprang into action. She grabbed a stick on the side, ran out into the lawn, and started striking something in the grass. The object of her blows turned out to be a pair of medium-length grass snakes. Even while playing mahjong, out of the corner of her eye, this vibrant, I guess, eagle-eyed woman noticed a pair of slithering serpents in the grass and reacted like a ninja on a suicide mission.

She mercilessly vanquished the two unsuspecting creatures; beat them to a pulp. It took a few minutes for calm to return to the game’s lazy flow, but my old granny was quite nonplussed by all the excitement.

The incident became the highlight of the afternoon, pushing the mahjong game to the background, and the poor serpents—one of them no more than two feet long—turned out to be of the harmless, non-poisonous variety. But Ginny’s agility and quantum-quick reflex had so impressed me that I figured she must’ve worked for St. Patrick in a previous life, helping him drive the snakes out of Ireland.

That exciting afternoon was the last I saw of Ginny for a while.

In the meantime, I finished high school, went to university, worked for three years in television and advertising in Manila. Then in 1972, I went to the States and started a new life here.

Several Years Later

I had heard intermittently from one of my brothers that Ginny had become a very visible and successful businesswoman in Manila and known professionally as Viring de Asis. Ah, so that was her full name.

She was now the doyenne of a thriving antiques empire. I heard stories of Ginny coming to NYC —where I lived in 1972-1983—and swooping down on “estate” sales in Manhattan’s exclusive Upper East Side, beating out the likes of Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Doyle. She would take the wares back to Manila and resell them.

Now, how I wish I had connected with Ginny in her Manhattan forays. I’m sure we would have had a grand time exploring and hitting the rarefied enclaves and townhouses of the upper East Side. (We would have done it before you, Vilma B.!)

 Ginny, as the successful antiques dealer Viring de Asis, in later years.  I would not have recognized her glamorous self here were this photo not actually provided by her daughter of Jo-Liza Arts & Antiques.  

Ginny, as the successful antiques dealer Viring de Asis, in later years.  I would not have recognized her glamorous self here were this photo not actually provided by her daughter of Jo-Liza Arts & Antiques. 

But our respective paths didn’t cross again until a visit I made back home in 2000.

An artsy friend met me for lunch at the quaint Café Ysabel on P. Guevara St. (Funny how many streets back then in San Juan would only use the first initial of the person it was named after. M. Paterno? J. Ejercito? P. Naglabanan?)

Back to the story: after a nice lunch, we wondered where we would go next. Somehow, Viring’s name came up, and this was because her atelier was just minutes away from the Café. So off we hied to nearby Jo-Liza’s Arts & Antiques as her business was now called.

Luckily, Viring was in. It took a minute or so for Viring to remember who I was; after all, it had been some twenty years earlier since we last met. Now, she was sizing me up. I was no longer the youthful lad she knew from way back when. I was now a very sure, middle-aged man.

She insisted on being called “tita” (aunt) which I found strange since I had never called her that before – and, all the more, with my new-found “American” sensibilities, why should I suddenly address her as such? She was always “Ginny” to me and I was “Sonny” (my nickname to family and close associates) to her.

The formalities of the past aside, we caught up on old times, quite reservedly. She then served us coffee and snacks, which weren’t necessary since we just had lunch at the Café—but like many Manila matrons, she persisted. Since the N. Domingo days in the 1950-60s she had hooked up with a Luis Anson, had one daughter by him, Liza, established Jo-Liza Antiques, named after her two daughters (the other one is Jo Ann, married to a Dr. Salgado. Okay, the info here is a little checkered and sensitive.)

She asked about my mom who was then already living in the US.

Mom and Viring were quite alike in many ways. Both came from humble, hard-scrabble backgrounds: Viring from Bulacan; Mom from Marikina. Both became self-made women who raised themselves by their own bootstraps. While Viring started out with her bar and went on to the antiquities trade, Mom had completed her medical degree during the war (UP, 1944) then set up private practice in San Juan with the accompanying pharmacy. And for a few years, Mom even added a dress shop business on the very same premises as the clinic and pharmacy (in the back).

Soon, Viring had to excuse herself and the visit ended quickly.

By this time too, the old buildings of my youth on N. Domingo were gone. They had been torn down around 1993 to make room for the modern market. I then returned to my life States-side.

In writing this piece, more childhood memories of the noisy bar with the jukebox, came flooding back. I remember that Ginny’s partner back then was an ex-American G.I. called Al. He was a quiet guy whom I always saw sitting at one of the tables with a bottle of beer in front of him.

Then, of course, the reverie of other songs that sprang from that jukebox: probably the second most played piece was Joni James singing When I Fall in Love, which sounded sappy to me. Third on the hit parade, during Christmas, was Bing Crosby’s White Christmas. A happy fourth was the catchy Jambalaya (what the hell was a jambalaya?) Those tunes droned into my virgin ears for years, and thus account for my tastes in popular American music (well, at least of the 1950s and early ‘60s).

 Joni James

Joni James

All this happened pre-Erap (Joseph Estrada for readers who don’t know) days of sleepy San Juan. As a matter of fact, it was the Mayor Nic Ibuna days.

Along with Viring’s later success in business came a rise in her social rank and connections. The Jo-Liza store had established itself as a force to be reckoned with on the Manila antiques scene.

During the Marcos martial law years, Ginny developed many profitable relationships with the “movers and shakers” of that era. While the likes of Rustan’s Glecy Tantoco and Ronnie Laing catered to the Tier A ranks of Imelda Marcos’ Blue Ladies, Viring quickly and successfully filled in the gaps of, shall we say, the corps de sycophants of Imelda’s world, furnishing the decorating needs of the “wives of the generals” and the second wave of ascendant Chinese businessmen.

My brother related to me how Viring created “gilded, antique-like” mirrors in a mass production line precisely for those Chinese clients, to great success. Post-martial law, she had even become major ninang, along with social lion Conrado Escudero as ninong-in-chief, to the very sosyal Santacruzan event at Luneta, which featured leading couturiers draping up-and-coming models and socialite wannabees. Indeed, our once and former neighbor had found her place in Manila’s social whirl.

In any case, I’m glad we reconnected again in 2000 because two short years later, Viring passed away.

 Nat "King" Cole

Nat "King" Cole

Sometime in 1961, Nat King Cole finally came to Manila and performed at the Araneta Coliseum. I’ve often wondered, even decades after, whether Ginny and Al made an effort to see him. I had a chance to see the man of the menthol pipes perform live at the Big Dome.

 

But whatever else the intervening years had brought, I will always remember Ginny as that gutsy, dynamic, and enterprising neighbor of my youth and my accidental conduit to the timeless vocal stylings of Nat King Cole, and Hoagy Carmichael’s masterpiece, Stardust. The song ends . . .

Though I dream in vain
In my heart it will remain
My stardust melody
The memory of love’s refrain.
©

Thanks, Ginny, for the memories.  I bet you and Al and Nat are having one helluva blast playing that giant Jukebox in the sky.  If the Big Guy and St. Pete try to shut you down, I can see you cutting them a deal for a pair of shiny, new, “antique” candelabras for the Pearly Gates.  And throw in an encore from Nat of Stardust, even if he has to lip-synch it. 

Sources:

Thanks to Jo Ann Salgado

https://www.pressreader.com/philippines/the-philippine-star/20120919/282063389166808

http://www.philstar.com/newsmakers/178400/unforgettable-tita-viring


 Myles A. Garcia

Myles A. Garcia

Myles A. Garcia is a Correspondent and regular contributor to  www.positivelyfilipino.com.  His newest book, “Of Adobe, Apple Pie, and Schnitzel With Noodles – An Anthology of Essays on the Filipino-American Experience and Some. . ., features the best and brightest of the articles Myles has written thus far for this publication.  The book is presently available onamazon.com (Australia, USA, Canada, Europe, and the UK).  

Myles’ two other books are:  Secrets of the Olympic Ceremonies (latest edition, 2016); and Thirty Years Later . . . Catching Up with the Marcos-Era Crimes published last year, also available from amazon.com.  

Myles is also a member of the International Society of Olympic Historians (ISOH) for whose Journal he has had two articles published; a third one on the story of the Rio 2016 cauldrons, will appear in this month’s issue -- not available on amazon.    

Finally, Myles has also completed his first full-length stage play, “23 Renoirs, 12 Picassos, . . . one Domenica”, which was given its first successful fully Staged Reading by the Playwright Center of San Francisco.  The play is now available for professional production, and hopefully, a world premiere on the SF Bay Area stages.  

For any enquiries on the above: contact razor323@gmail.com  


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