The former U.S. Naval Station at Subic Bay in the Philippines was separated from its port town by a large drainage canal we called Shit River. On the base side, one found hot water, wide streets, cheeseburgers, bowling, all the comforts of home, a piece of ‘the world’. One the other side, Olongapo City; us and them, divided by a river of shit.
Floating in the river was a fleet of small boats, where young girls dressed as prom queens begged for coins with wide wire scoops; their brothers dove for the coins they missed. In those days, crossing that bridge was like crossing into another reality, and all of your senses were assaulted at once. From the stalls that lined the first block came the smell of who knows what kind of skewered meat roasting on small braziers.
And straight ahead was Magsaysay Avenue, an ignominious strip of bars, nightclubs, live rock, massage parlors, hotels, restaurants every night fermenting with corruption, love, militarism, sex, hustling, drunkenness, everyone looking for a good time, or a short time, or a girlfriend, or a boyfriend, or a peso, a ticket to America, a blow job, or drugs to banish the clap.
After the base closed, Magsaysay was not even a ghost of its former self. The clubs that weren’t gutted were boarded up. Gone too were the prom queens, along with the slums on the river where they lived.
All gone, banished to the memories of aging sailors.