Susan found a job teaching English lit at the American School, just as it became known as the International School of Manila, a more accurate name since the American expatriate population was shrinking. A job wasn’t hard to find because of parity and because the American expatriate population was shrinking. It was a good time for an American woman to be looking for a job, but a bad time for taking a job at the American School. Susan’s timing was bad because almost immediately there was a teacher’s strike, a strike for higher rages, which was a good thing. The teachers argued, “How can we live on a salary of 450 pesos a month?” 450 pesos a month wasn’t a lot of money. 560 pesos a month wasn’t much better. And just how nasty did it get? 560 pesos a month certainly wouldn’t have broken the bank.
While the administration said, “Women we hire don’t have to rely on their salary because their husbands make good money.” But what if their husbands were like me and didn’t get a regular paycheck? What if they were widowed? Single? Had a bunch of kids? For after all this was a Catholic country. But the American school hired mostly women … mostly married women … mostly wives of expatriates even after it became the International School. They made it a practice to hire married women … mostly expatriates … with husbands who were either in the military or the diplomatic corps, and whose husbands made good money. But we didn’t fit the profile.
It looked as if it were going to be a bitter struggle. The teachers formed a union. Susan wasn’t sure if that was a mistake or not. The teachers formed a union and voted to go on strike. Susan didn’t know if a strike was such a good idea. She hadn’t been there long enough to know, and besides we needed money, and Susan thought the students would suffer. The administration struck back, initiated a lockout and wouldn’t budge. Eventually the teachers finally caved. They settled for 600 pesos a month. They loved teaching or else they wouldn’t have done it.
Some days I went with Susan to Makati. We would take a bus to Ayala Boulevard and get off in front of the old, grand Rizal Theater. She would walk from there to the school at Bel-Air Village. I rode the noisy buses to Makati to get in touch with what I left at home. I had to have my fix more or less once or twice a week and often spent the afternoon watching a movie or a polo match. I hadn’t been fan of polo before we came to the Philippines. That was when I got my Big 20 Hamburgers and stocked up on Tootsie Rolls.
More than once I went to the American Cemetery (out of respect for the fallen) and observed American tourists with their cameras, taking pictures of each other among the rows of crosses and tried to guess where they came from. I kept hoping to run into someone I knew. Maybe someone from Texas, even north Texas, so that we could swap stories about Big Tex. I thought I could spot Texans by their swagger.
By then I considered myself an expatriate and would never carry a camera or admit that I was from Texas. Now I don’t have anything against Texas or Texans. How could I have anything against Texans since I’m from Texas? Texas born and bred, but I worked hard to get rid of my Texas accent, and wouldn’t be caught dead with a camera. I didn’t want to be considered a tourist, wouldn’t be caught dead with a camera, and had definite views about the war, wars, wars in general, good ones and bad ones. My dad fought in a good one, but I wasn’t sure about Vietnam … at least not yet.
I wasn’t a deep thinker … at least not yet. Fuzzyheaded … I hadn’t given it much thought. At one point I was definitely for the war, and then I changed, changed my mind about it. Does that make me fuzzyheaded? Nick and I became friends. What does that make me? To the left? Left of where I’d been? I definitely felt I didn’t fit in Texas any more. Some people would call me a fuzzyheaded liberal. I can accept that. Especially after I met Nick and the education I got from him … considerably more radical and left leaning than any schooled liberal thanks to the Philippines. And yet I went to Makaki at least once week to eat a hamburger, watch a movie or a polo match and to get away from the Philippines … as far away as possible … at least for a little while.
Susan would let me have a few pesos. That seemed generous since she made only 600 pesos a month and after rent and food took so much. I regretted that she didn’t get to go to the movies with me during the week and had to wait until the weekend when we went to the movies downtown, which were cheaper and where we could hear Tagalog with English subtitles.
Some days I liked to just walk around Makaki and take in the Wall Street of the Philippines. There I could operate elevators by myself and instantly recognized businesses like Bank of America, IBM, and Hotel Inter-Continental. I liked to walk through the lobby of the Hotel Inter-Continental and go into boutique shops … not to buy anything but to look around. When I wanted to cash a traveler’s check I’d go into the Chase Manhattan Bank, where I knew I always had a friend. “Howdy,” the teller looked very smart. Goodness, she was from Texas! I could tell from her accent. With her mouth full of teeth, perfectly straight and white, she could’ve been a paid spokesperson for the bank.
I remember handing her a cashier’s check sent to us by my dad back in Texas. It was a small check, as good as any but was issued by a different bank. Now remember that the slogan for the bank was “You always have a friend at Chase Manhattan.” Well, she wasn’t very friendly …not very friendly at first. And she wasn’t going to cash my check … she wasn’t going to cash my check at first. With her mouth full of teeth, and perfectly straight and white, she wasn’t very friendly. ”Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, handing it back to me, “But we can’t cash this. You’ll have to take it down the street.” I started to put it back into the billfold I kept in my front pocket. It was unsafe to carry it in my back pocket. It contained my ID, more than my ID and was fat and bulky. A friend, huh! She was basically ignoring me, as she waited for me to leave, and put my billfold in my front pocket, which was what I was about to do when I decided to give it another shot. Now we needed the money because of the strike, so I saddled up to her and reminded her … “what happened to ‘You Always Have a Friend at Chase Manhattan.’” And by George, it worked. And from then on she was my friend, my Texas friend.