Anthony still plucks his guitar the way he did in high school: brilliantly. Only, he's better now—much. He's got real fans, too. Been jamming, recording, singing. Professionally, I mean, like in fashion shows, school dances, homecomings, praise communities, and events organized by Filipino student groups in America—well, Illinois. He'd moved from Minnesota to Chicago with Voltaire, the other half of the Roxas Brothers. "Ma was like, it's all right, at least it's not suburbia," Anthony said. "But I know she got a bit sad, with the two of us going."
Anthony is an accountant by day. He told me that sometimes after the nine-to-five he goes dancing with FIA Modern. Some sort of group, I didn't catch what the acronym stood for, but F probably means "Filipino". I can picture him now in something like a Wade Robson dance practice: a studio, mirrored walls, bubblegum sounds from an iPod dock, snappy movement, young urban hip hop attire ("threads"), baseball cap worn crisply at an angle, such that the golden authenticity sticker, left unpeeled under the brim, flashes whenever the head cocks like this and like that.
I was more interested in Anthony's music—how he got gigs, for example. "Word of mouth," he told me, although Word of Web is what he probably meant. I've seen some of the stuff on his YouTube channel—two-hundred-thousand-plus views, six-hundred-something subscribers. In reply to the Label Type question, he wrote, "Unsigned"; his influences included God, Jesus Christ, Mama Mary, all the saints, and John Mayer.
I still remember Anthony at a more hazardous age: when we were in high school together, before he went to America. He went by Dennis then, because Dennis Von Anthony sounded a bit too grand. His hair was curly, but not like mine, which was shy-makingly curly, and the shoes he wore weren't made of black leather. They looked like it, though, and the teachers never noticed. The soles were, in fact, made of rubber, giving its wearer the slightest athletic advantage whenever slight athletic advantages could be taken. He wasn't as bad as I was at billiards, and he liked cafeteria dumplings. After class we walked to either McDonald's on Retiro Street—to gawk at girls from nearby Saint Theresa’s College (well, I might have merely pretended to gawk)—or our house, about eight to ten blocks away from the Lourdes School campus in Quezon City. Anthony, myself, Dann, Triggy, and Miko. That was our entourage right there.
A typical Lourdesian entourage, too, which means that we made fun of each other all the time, always boisterously. Lose your temper, take the name-calling and the game-playing too seriously, and you'd make a complete fool of yourself. Yet on a deeper, somewhat more implicit level, we also envied each other. Each one was laughed at and envied: me (pre-tonsillectomy) for singing the national anthem and the school hymn every morning; Dann for shooting off his mouth with details of his first sexual encounter ("she bled, man, and we brushed our teeth every hour"); Triggy for playfully dismissing the magnetic effects of his charm, which attracted boys in school who wanted to do his music class homework in exchange for who knew what; Miko for owning, in the era of Linkin Park's global domination, a Dance Dance Revolution pad (a pink-and-blue disco controller thing which lit up like neon litmus) for our regular Playstation afternoons; and Anthony, with his acoustic stylings and hoarse, pubescent countertenor, for unwittingly imposing pop into our brotherhood. He used to mispronounce words, particularly those containing the letter 's'. He couldn't properly say "fist" or "gas", so instead we heard "fished" and "gash". But when he sang the impediment inexplicably went away, so that 'N Sync's "Selfish" was never about clams and oysters.
As a prophylactic, we kept to ourselves, unassumingly ambling along school corridors with a kind of conforming hush. Part of conforming meant playing basketball, which we did, and our given class numbers became our default jersey numbers; we liked to think we were all vital cogs in our intramural teams. Of course, none of the other guys at school ever suspected that we represented a boy band, and that we all wanted to be Justin Timberlake, even though no one really fit the bill. Girls just loved Justin back then, but can you imagine? It would have been disastrous for us. We might as well have hidden in a corner to eat our mommy-packed lunches. It would have been even more disastrous had we been the Backstreet Boys, because the Backstreet Boys sort of overdid it with those silly astronaut costumes and chest-baring wet shirts. We had these classmates—a come-hither group of five zingingly perfumed boys with cosmetic cases and glittery peacock fans—who were basically known as the Spice Girls; Posh, Scary, Baby, Sporty, and Ginger, each one of them a peach. Everyone knew who was who. The Spice Girls kept to themselves, too, but almost never by choice. But at least they knew themselves far better than we did—than I did—at the time. They were so much surer.
I saw Anthony when he came back to the Philippines for a two-week visit, at least nine or ten years since he first left. He brought chocolates and Gummi Worms at the informal reunion at another old classmate's house, somewhere in Santa Mesa Heights. Sweets: as if we were all still classmates. Not everyone was in attendance, though. Dann was reportedly working somewhere in Malaysia, and Miko was reportedly working somewhere in Paris. Triggy showed up, if only for Texas hold 'em. We sat al fresco in plastic chairs at a plastic table, amidst beers, brandy, cigarettes, poker chips. "I don't think I can take any more alcohol," Anthony said later that night. We weren't surprised. Every time a familiar face showed up and walked in through the front gate, he or she was offered a shot, two shots, three shots of Emperador. Like in the old days, there were consequences for refusal: not only did you remain inhibited; you also instantly became peculiar. I thus must have been swimming in drink when we did the slip-me-some-skin handshake, said our goodbyes, and drove away—none of us, I bet, more concerned about what we'd become than about how we used to be.