Spicy, but just a little

An evocative adventure/love story from the author of The Illusion of Gravity.

In 1966 Manila, an American teenager courts a CIA recruit several years his senior. It’s a mismatch, a scandal. When she ships out, it’s over. Maybe.

An uncommon spin on the coming-of-age theme, informed by the author’s upbringing in mid-century Asia. Mature content, Young Adult appropriate. Value-positive, about good character as a strategy for creating a successful life. An immersive journey to a time and place now gone forever.

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Featured Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Camera Familia #22 — John Dyer Writes

Manila, Philippines. Circa 1958. A year before this photo was taken, Mom took me to visit a friend who lived in an apartment near downtown Manila. I had never been in an apartment before. I didn’t even know such things existed.

The lady had a dachshund named Gretchen. I had never seen a Dachshund before.

Gretchen knew a trick. The owner balanced a cookie on the dog’s nose. The dog stood still. The owner said, “Okay.” The dog flipped the cookie into the air, and ate it. I had no idea dogs could learn tricks.

Gretchen had a litter of puppies. I had never seen puppies before.

Can you believe it? I was seven! Anyway, we took one home, and someone in the family, probably Mom, named her Hildegard. We called her Hildy. Years later, Mom claimed the dog’s name was actually Brunhilda. It was Hildegard. These were important events for me. I remember everything about it.

One day, Hildy had puppies. I had no idea how that happened, but I got to pick one for us to keep. I named him Mercury. We called him Mergy.

These were standard Dachshunds. Mergy weighed about twenty pounds as an adult. See the photo, Mergy and me, circa 1965.

It never occurred to anyone to teach these dogs tricks, but they did have a behavior. They hunted rats, big old Chinese Brown Rats, about a third their size. They’d bag them early in the morning, after Lucina got up, and stack the bodies on the front porch. Dad would come out for the newspaper to find Hildy and Mergy guarding their catch, waiting to be praised.

Technically, Mergy was my first pet, and I’ll always remember him that way — but both dogs slept with Lucina, so they probably thought they were hers.

At the time, I had no idea that was an option.

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Camera Familia #21 — John Dyer Writes

Manila, Philippines. Circa 1958. I remember very little about my enlistment in the Philippine Cub Scouts, but there’s no refuting photographic evidence — I was in it. There was a guidebook, tasks to accomplish, skills to acquire. We must have gone on outings. I appear to have made acquaintances. I don’t recall any unpleasant moments.

The goal of the organization was to build virtue, self-reliance, good citizenship. As far as I know, it worked.

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Camera Familia #20 — John Dyer Writes

Botocan, Philippines. Circa 1957. The life we imagine for ourselves is not necessarily the best life for everyone, but ideas will spread, and people will make choices. Filipinos valued their culture, but postwar Western nations had a lot to offer.

Population was expanding. Cities were growing. Modernization outward was essential, if for no other reason than to increase crop yields. In the provinces, traditional ways would eventually be displaced.

Thankfully, we were there in time to witness that which came before. In the photo, a man smiles at the camera, apparently serene, living in the moment. At arm’s length, a water buffalo, a cart, a harvest. I suspect he knew, as all of us should, that the most important things in life are usually right there, at arm’s length.

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Camera Familia #19 — John Dyer Writes

Manila, Philippines. Circa 1957. Hard times make people grow up faster, a quality that can often be seen in photographs. My siblings were born in 1941, at the beginning of World War II. Some of their peers were toddlers at the Santo Tomas prison camp during the Japanese occupation.

A few, like my brother, arrived in Manila half-grown, rough and tough. Mike used to hang around the Manila Yacht Club waiting for members to get off work. He crewed sailboats, raced dinghies, explored the caves at Corregidor, and put some adventure under his belt.

My shift started during the prime rib buffet. Mike left for college. Our parents played golf. Mom was in art class. My cousins were hunting, fishing, racing jalopies around the back roads without drivers licenses, but they were half a planet away. There was nobody to show me how to do those things.

I’m not complaining. I had a great life growing up. My wife says she’s jealous. Mind you, she was riding motorcycles at the age of eleven. I could easily be jealous of that.

In the photo on the left, my brother Mike dancing with our stepsister Carolyn. On the right, their friends, also sixteen years old, looking way more grown up than I did at that age.

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Camera Familia #18 — John Dyer Writes

Manila, Philippines. Forbes Park, 1956. Around the time of this photo, I asked Dad why we rarely saw my classmates at the Manila Polo Club. He replied, “Not everyone can be a member.” I was too young to process the long explanation but there was, for instance, a ceiling on enrollment. One needed a sponsor. You had to be voted in. It was expensive. Some folks lived on the beach, or had swimming pools, or spent all their time at the golf club. Being able to walk through the front door at MPC didn’t necessarily make us special.

So, this is what that looked like.

The club had (has) a twenty-five meter swimming pool, tennis courts, badminton courts, a duck-pin bowling alley, riding stables, party houses, a ballroom. Even at the tender age of six, I could see our life had experienced an upgrade.

My mother, and stepsister Carolyn, waxing glamorous on the low board. We weren’t in Flintstone, Georgia anymore.

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